Even though it took us a bit out of the way during the heat of summer, we purposely routed our west coast road trip through Death Valley National Park so that we could spend part of the day checking out the hottest place in the country and check it off of our National Parks Bucket List. Near the California-Nevada state line, Death Valley National Park is the largest National Park in the country (outside of Alaska), and one that we’ve been dying (ha ha ha!) to see, so it was an obvious choice to include on our west coast road trip.
First things first, when planning a trip to the hottest place on earth, make sure to come prepared– especially in the summer! We filled our water bottles, had extra water in the trunk, and had a first aid kit on hand before we even made our way towards the park.
After a quick breakfast at our hotel in Bishop, we were back on the road driving through the mountains of California. We went through a really nasty storm just outside of Death Valley National Park, and while it obscured some of our mountain views, it was a nice change of pace from driving in the sun.
Owens Lake (the dry, tan area) used to be 25-50 feet deep and was an important feeding and resting stop for waterfowl each year. However, when the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built in 1913, it effectively devastated the ecosystem of Owens Lake and left a dry lake bed in place of a beautiful blue lake. As of 2013, this dry lake bed is the single largest contributor to dust pollution in the US.
Contrary to popular belief, less than 1% of the park is covered with sand. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, near Stovepipe Wells, are the most popular dunes in the park, and the only ones to allow sandboarding. Because of the heat (and the fact that we were at White Sands National Monument a few weeks prior), we did not get out and explore the dunes but definitely would if we were there with cooler temps.
We saw a coyote as we were driving into the park, near Panamint Springs and we were surprised at how docile it seemed (and how skinny it was!) as it cautiously approached the car, though we left before it crossed the road.
At the Visitor Center, we talked to the Park Ranger about our experience and he said that the coyotes in the park are so used to getting food from visitors that they will often approach cars looking for a handout- unfortunately, all too often they get hit by cars and it has started to negatively impact their numbers within the park.
The kids all drew pictures of the wildlife they saw in the park and hung it on a bulletin board in the Visitors Center- the “ciote” was definitely the highlight.
We hiked up a short trail to check out the Zabriskie Point viewpoint. Now, this short trail was maybe 1/4 of a mile at most and I swear, we all felt like we were going to die from the heat and lack of humidity. Death Valley in the summer is no joke! Make sure you bring a water bottle and stay hydrated– even on the short walk out to Zabriskie Point.
Death Valley was a first for all of us and we were all completely in awe of the views. The park is so unlike anything we’d seen before and parts of it don’t even look real!
Manly Beacon, the high outcrop over the badlands, is a beautiful contrast to the cliffs of Red Cathedral and the surrounding mud hills.
Manly Beacon was named after William L Manly, a member of the “Death Valley ’49ers”, that traveled to California during the Gold Rush and eventually ended up lost in Death Valley due to an inaccurate map. Nearly out of food and on the verge of starvation, Manly and his friend Rogers hiked 250 miles across the Mojave Desert on foot in order to find a way out of Death Valley and then secured food and horses so that they could go back and rescue the rest of the ’49ers.
No matter where we tried to take a picture, the sun always seemed to be in the kids’ eyes but we still managed to get a few “good” ones!
This area, like much of Death Valley, is the result of earthquakes and water from millions of years ago working together to create an almost unreal landscape. The area was once level but seismic activity folded the valley floor allowing powerful rainstorms to travel through the gullies, eroding the rocks into the beautiful landscapes you see today.
The dark part at the top of the ridge is lava from a volcanic eruption that occurred 3-5 MILLION years ago!
Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, and we planned to explore it on a hot, July day. We came prepared with plenty of water, cooled off in the a/c in the Visitor Center and in the car, and still, the kids wanted to quit after a couple of hours. We only saw a couple of the highlights of the park- and didn’t even make it to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America!- before calling it a day and driving to Las Vegas. Even though we didn’t see everything that we planned to, it was still a fun stop and we’d like to go back (maybe with cooler weather!) and spend more time exploring.
Things to Remember When You Visit Death Valley National Park
- Bring lots of water!! It’s HOT in Death Valley!!
- Stay on the paved roads and if your car breaks down, stay with it until help arrives– do not try to walk and find help.
- Drink lots of water!! If you feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, get out of the sun and drink water. Heat stroke is a very real thing and it’s dangerous!
- If you’re going to hike, especially in the summer, complete your hike before 10am. Make sure that someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back and ALWAYS stay on the trail.
- Death Valley is a great place for viewing the night sky– go during the new moon to see the most stars.
- Bring AND drink lots of water!! A gallon per person in your car (and even more in the summer) is the recommendation. But don’t stop there, pack food and a first aid kit, just in case.
Have you ever braved the heat and been to Death Valley??