Death Valley National Park is a unique park offering a diverse landscape covering deserts, mountains, canyons, dunes, and salt flats. With Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America situated in Death Valley, the climate is tremendously hot and dry, contrasted by winter when the peaks are covered in snow. Regardless of its name, this national park is full of life and a designated wilderness area, home to wild animals and flora.
When visiting Death Valley National Park it may be surprising to realize that only 1% of the desert is actually covered with sand. However, the park does have 5 different sand dunes, with the highest being the Eureka Dunes. The most popular being the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, this is likely because they are located at the center of the park, and are the most accessible. The wilderness at the sand dunes is protected and with good reason, as the 100 foot Mesquite Flat, is home to different species of rodents, birds, and snakes, making it a perfect location for research. The views from the dunes and the surrounding mountains are spectacular, but even more so at sunrise and sunset.
With the sand constantly shifting by the winds there is no official trail to follow, so visitors have to find their way to the highest point. For adrenaline junkies, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the only dunes offering sand-boarding opportunities. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is a very popular site, and it can get really busy. The car park close to Stovepipe Well’s Campground fills up fast, so visiting early is recommended to avoid both the rush and the heat. Temperatures at the dunes can be intolerable for some in the hottest months and in winter the landscape changes as the highest parts of the dunes are covered in snow. While visiting in Spring and Fall is possibly a happy medium, the weather is still very hot, so carrying water around the park is a must all year round.
A spur off the main-road at Death Valley offers a wonderful scenic experience. The Artists Drive is a one way 9-mile road leading from South to North, passing through canyons and crossing over the colored mountains. The soil on the mountain contains rich metals (irons, manganese) which have oxidized and tinted the sand with vivid hues, earning the drive its artistic name. Along the way, visitors can pull over and take in the incredible views of the mountains and the Badwater Basin close by. Artist’s Palette, the most popular viewpoint, can be reached 5 miles into the drive. A short walk from the parking lot, leads to the mountainside with purple, blue, yellow, and green tints, resembling a palette, hence the name. Starting off Badwater road, the journey takes around 45 minutes or longer depending on the number of stops. If driving on the curvy road, going up hills, and down sudden drops isn’t thrilling enough, the views make the drive worthwhile, as every moment is picture-perfect, especially when wildflowers are in full bloom.
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation point in North America making the climate at the Basin extremely dry. This is contrasted nicely by the high mountains in the distance. The Basin formed through seismic changes in the earth’s crust over the years. The flat land at the bottom of the basin is covered in salt, left from evaporated water. The basin’s name comes from the fact that any water lying in the basin is so salty, that not even animals would drink it, thus making it bad water. When it rains significantly, the basin has a thin layer of water forming a small pool, but this never lasts long due to the dry climate. While Badwater Basin can be visited all year long, it is recommended to avoid summer especially if you intend to walk over the salt-flats and the pool (in the rainy season). Visitors can also visit the nearby salt polygons. Being one of the most popular spots in the park, the area can get busy with parking posing a challenge.
Covering 3.4 million acres, there is no doubt that Death Valley National Park offers an infinite number of remarkable sights. With the Badwater Basin being a rite of passage for all visitors, and with a hike on the sand dunes being a must, the park is guaranteed to offer a pleasant experience for visitors of all ages and abilities. With the entrance fee being $30 for a seven-day pass, visitors can also spend the night in one of the numerous camping grounds or at the nearby lodgings.