Death Valley has always been a place that I’ve wanted to visit, but we never seem to be passing by at a convenient time. When we’ve driven through California it was always for a funeral or in the summer, which is not a good time to visit Death Valley. March, however is a lovely time to visit Death Valley, so we made it a spring break destination. Death Valley National Park is in the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert and “contains a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains.” For a desert, I was really surprised at the variety. And of course it is famous for having the hottest record temperature on earth, and having the lowest and driest points in North America. We made it a day trip (from Las Vegas) and I was surprised that we didn’t have enough time to see everything. Considering we had one day there and small children en tow, here’s what we did and it worked out well, but if you plan on going there, consider that are more options.
First stop- Zabriskie Point, near the south entrance of the park. It has a little bit of kid-friendly hiking and climbing and some impressive views. This part of the park was unexpectedly cold and windy.
After grabbing a map at the visitor’s center, (Do NOT buy one at the first few stores you see. They are $12 a piece. The visitor’s center will give you a perfectly serviceable one for free.) we headed south to Golden Canyon. Golden Canyon is only a mile hike, we thought ‘Our kids can totally handle this.’ But they were kind of grumpy, hadn’t had enough to drink and whined until we turned around. We still saw some pretty scenery.
The kids enjoyed “The Devil’s Golf Course”. It’s a rocky field covered in salt crystal formations. I wouldn’t think that poking salt and dirt would be so exciting, but it was, for them. (And for some reason I can not get wordpress to load the picture I took of them at ‘the golf course’, so here’s an even better one.)
Next we hiked to Natural Bridge, a half mile hike, or it would have been, except Stinker Bell was throwing a tantrum and after I strapped her into the harness she made the biggest stinkiest diaper of recent memory. Thinking ‘oh it’s a short hike, I’ll fill by bag with grapes and water instead of a diaper and wipes’ was a mistake, so we had to backtrack. Longest half mile hike ever. Eventually we got there, I was surprised at how precarious the bridge looked. There are so many cracks and large rocks that look like they could dislodge themselves with a good rain.
Next we stopped at Badwater Basin. Badwater was so called because when the first government surveyor came through his donkey wouldn’t drink the salty water from the lake, so he labeled it ‘badwater’ on his map and the name stuck. It claims the lowest point in North America, which according to the signs, sinks slightly every year.
The last bit of our trip we circled back and drove by Artist’s Palette, a mountainous area which has a surprising array and contrast of colors. I never would have guessed that you could naturally find a mountain that was purple, green, pink, orange, red and yellow. The ‘Artist’s Palette’ mountain is on a turn-off, which is easy to miss, but the entire one-way road has some beautiful mountains that are worth seeing.
General Tips for Death Valley:
- Go in the spring, it’s not even open during the summer.
- Bring lots of water, even more than you would expect. It’s hot and dry there. A week before I froze a box of caprisuns, and several water bottles to keep our food cold. As they thaw they don’t make a mess and they give you refresshing cold drinks.
- I would advise bringing your own food. There aren’t a lot of food options, and we’ve gotten used to the fact that wherever we go there are seldom vegetarian options. I packed pesto chickpea salad, pitas, pb & j, grapes, oranges and granola bars and we were quite satisfied.
- The visitor center said that if the conditions are just right (a light rainfall throughout the fall and winter), Death Valley will be covered with wild flowers in the spring. This only happens every several years, it wasn’t the case when we went, but I would love to go back when it is.
- There aren’t a lot of hotel options near death valley, and they’re pricey. You can get more bang for your buck staying in Las Vegas (2 & 1/2 hours away). If you want to just see Death Valley, by all means stay in Furnace Creek, but we were hitting the children’s museum in Las Vegas anyway.