[Death Valley National Park, CA, Mar 30, 2019]
We tried to sleep in on our first morning in Death Valley, but the alarm clock in our hotel room had somehow gotten set to 6 am. When it went off that morning, surprising both of us, we were mad at first but in the end enjoyed getting a fairly early start to our day. After breakfast at the hotel, we gassed up at the fuel station right next door. Since this was the only one for 57 miles, they knew they could charge a pretty penny – gas prices here were $5 a gallon, a good $1.20 more than what we’d paid outside the park. Luckily, we only needed half a tank.
The Furnace Creek visitor center was right next door. I got my national park passport stamp and we checked with a ranger to confirm road conditions for the sights we wanted to see while we were here. It was barely 9 am and it was already 72F / 22 C.
We headed south on Badwater Rd and took the scenic paved 9-mile Artists’ Drive. a loop that begins off Badwater Rd. It’s named for the palette of colors on the rocks, caused by oxidizing of different metals. There were no other cars there, so we were able to stop and take photos as we pleased.
Back on Badwater road, we continued south towards Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the park and North America at 282 ft / 85 m below sea level. A sign marking sea level was perched up on the rocks above the parking area and it was a great visual indicator of how far below sea level we were.
Seismic forces dropped this area below sea level; the lack of rain and the intense heat meant that it never got filled up with water like most other places below sea-level would.
Badwater basin is home to 200-square-mile salt flats, among the largest protected salt flats in the world. Salt flats need 3 things to form – a source of salts, usually a large drainage system; an enclosed basin that does not drain out to sea; and a climate where evaporation exceeds precipitation, which leaves behind just the salts.
The source of Badwater’s salt flats is Death Valley’s drainage system, which is 9,000 square miles – an area larger than New Hampshire. Walking out to the salt flats from the Badwater basin parking lot was awesome. We were allowed to go as far as we wanted, so we were able to get away from most other visitors. As we got deeper into the flats, they sprawled out in every direction. It was an eerie sight for sure.
To visit the next sights on our list, we had to go back the way we came. We passed the Inn at Furnace Creek – the fancier hotel in the village, and we stopped by to make a dinner reservation for their restaurant. The Inn is sitting on a hill that has even better views of the Panamint mountains. The parking lot is at the base of the hill, and we went through a really cool tunnel until we reached an elevator in the underbelly of the hotel.
We enjoyed a coffee and a cocktail (guess who had which) at the lobby bar. We enjoyed the view from the picture windows while waiting for the restaurant to open for lunch so we could make the dinner reservations.
B got distracted by the library he found on the other side of the lobby. It included Folio library editions – a custom-made selection of hard-bound classics from the Folio Society, including Shakespeare. He found an excerpt from Hamlet, then handed me the book and recited that excerpt, asking me to follow along to make sure he remembered it correctly. How could I not love a man who can recite Shakespeare from memory?
Our next stop was Zabriskie point, one of the most popular overlooks in the park. We could have gotten here via a 3-mile one-way hike from Badwater rd, but we preferred to drive for time’s sake and also because it was already the middle of the day and quite warm. The view of the badlands from here was amazing, and I could see why this is a popular spot for both sunrise and sunset watching.
We continued on the Dante’s view, about 11 miles further south and more than 5,000 ft / 1,500 m higher than Furnace Creek. Temperatures here were 25 F / 15 C lower. We were sitting right on top of Badwater basin and could see the trail leading into the salt flats from here. Right across from us was snow-capped Telescope peak, the highest point in the park at 11,043 ft / 3,365 m. The views from here were worth the 30-minute one-way drive from Zabriskie point.
By this point, we were tuckered out from all the driving – we had been out and about for almost 5 hours. We spent a few quiet hours in our hotel before heading back to the Inn for dinner. Their back patio was open, which was a much better option than the front. The front faces west and although that may sound like a good way to see the sunset, it is actually better to be in the back facing east. We were in shade here but we could watch the waning sunlight bathe the hills to the east in ever-changing colors. We missed seeing the actual sunset because of this but we felt like we got the better view. I highly recommend the prickly pear margaritas, which gave us just the right amount of buzz.