On July 10, 1913 the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was taken in Death Valley at 201’F. That’s hot! This and other average high temperatures are due to the valley’s long narrow basin, sitting 282 feet below sea level which is surrounded by a steep sloping mountain range. The Valley’s size and shape mean that when sunlight reaches and heats the ground it becomes trapped and so during the night there is little relief. Since 1913 the area has not only become famous for being the hottest place on earth but also for being home to America’s 1950s and 60s Western films. Parts of the original Star Wars films were even filmed in the valley. The area is a National Park and upon entering you will require a park pass which costs around $30 a day or if you have your America The Beautiful pass entry is free.
When to visit
The best time to visit is any time outside of the summer months, unless you really enjoy the heat. With average top temperatures hitting 46 and 45 degrees in July and August it’s not called the hottest place on earth for nothing. The winter months are much milder with temperatures averaging a top of 18 degrees in December and January. When we visited at the beginning of June temperatures were still reaching 47 degrees during the day, it was getting so hot that soft drink we had in the van started to pop open on their own and we were genuinely concerned our car would just start melting. The area is definitely the hottest we have ever been to. Whenever you decide to go just don’t do as we did, take a 1987 Ford with no A/C. Make sure your car has recently been serviced and has functioning air conditioning, a breakdown or no A/C to cool off could be disastrous for your trip.
Where to Stay
A lot of sights within the Valley can be viewed from your car or a quick photo stop so you can see pretty much every highlight within one day. However if you want to have a unique experience and stay overnight, the valley provides some great locations to star gaze, there are only a few options. Keep in mind though that hotels and inns are on the more expensive side of things and this is due almost entirely on their isolated location.
Internet is hard to get and in fact your phone may not be able to get signal anywhere within the valley so don’t rely on your phone. Getting food, power and water is also quite an expensive endeavour out there. Rooms can cost around $200USD a night for some nice but basic comfort eg A/C, running water shower, TV (not the best, again because of the isolation) and mini fridge. While we passed through we stayed at Stovepipe Wells a refreshing little oasis of a hotel. During our stay we spent most of the day hiding in the room’s A/C only venturing out before sunrise until 10am and late afternoon/evening. If you are just passing through you could also consider stopping by and cooling off in the hotel pool for a small fee.
What to See
Located on the western side of the National Park 2.5miles away from the village of Stovepipe Wells the canyon is an amazing natural array of rock in what looks like some strange Grecian mosaic. The canyon looks almost man made as you wind through. The trail through the canyon takes just shy of 1hr round-trip and abruptly finishing in front of a narrowing in the canyon where a rock fall has occurred.
The lowest point in North America at 86m below sea level this vast landscape of salt flats surrounded by seemingly towering mountain ranges is a must visit if only for a moment or two as temperatures are the hottest in the entire Valley. If you like you can take some quick pictures from the car park and the wooden walking platform or you can even walk out onto the salt flats themselves. The trip to the basin is about 30mins one way from Furnace Creek, about 27km.
On your way back from Badwater Basin make sure you turn right onto Artists drive. This is a one way scenic loop through multi-coloured hills. Jump out of the car to take a picture at Artists Palette and take a moment to enjoy the amazing rock formations which cover the landscape. The entrance to the loop is located along Badwater road not far north of the Basin.
Located 7.7km east of Furnace Creek along Highway 190 the view point at Zabriskie offers some amazing views of golden coloured rolling badlands. To get to the viewpoint however there is a bit of a walk 400m with an 18m elevation gain. I know this doesn’t sound like much but if you find yourself there in the middle of the day in summer it can become the most challenging walk you’ve ever done. If visiting in summer try and arrive for sunrise when the temperature is much cooler and watch as the light changes the colour of the hills below you.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Rising 30m into the sky from the valley floor these dunes seem strangely out of place in this mostly rocky environment. While the dunes are not the biggest you can find in the world nor are they the most vast they can provide some awesome vistas for sunrise, sunset or a perfect full moon night.
Father Crowley Vista Point
A vast landscape of dark volcanic lava flows giving way to multi-coloured layers in Rainbow Canyon. Once turned off and parked it is about a 10minute walk to the viewpoint. If you have time try and stay a while, see if you can spot the extremely low flying military jets which use the canyon as a daily training ground. The viewpoint is a bit out of the way if you aren’t heading west along Hw 190, its about 30km from Stovepipe Wells.
Just remember guys if you’re visiting in the hotter months to carry plenty of water on you, this might seem pretty obvious but at these temperatures dehydration and heat stroke can come on quicker than you think. If you do at any point feel sick or dizzy get out of the sun as soon as you can and drink plenty of water, as an extra measure wet your clothing to try and cool your body down. Remember do not hike in the lower elevations after 10am, if you do want to hike get up to the higher elevations where the temperature is much cooler.
Be mindful of the wildlife
When we visited we didn’t see a lot of wildlife, we drove past two coyotes, but only saw a handful of lizards, bugs and the occasional birds while walking around. However there are a number of dangerous animals that live within the valley including rattlesnakes, scorpions and black widow spiders. So be careful when hiking and never put your hand/feet where you can’t see eg under rocks. We were also told about wild Burros (basically donkeys) which were introduced to the valley decades ago by travellers and miners. The Burros damage habitats and drink up water sources the native animals rely on. While we didn’t see any during our time the national park advises that they can be dangerous and you should not get close to them. Also as a general rule don’t feed any wildlife.