Death Valley National Park: USA 2015

The last big item on our itinerary was a two-night stay in Death Valley National Park. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

We arrived at Stovepipe Wells in late-afternoon, with the mercury touching 105F (40C) and the sun blazing out of a perfectly blue sky.

After sorting ourselves out and having something to drink, we drove over to see the nearby Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes but during the afternoon a steady breeze had sprung up and the air was filled with sand. It was quite dramatic but not great for walking around in or operating a camera, so we decided to call it quits for the day as the forecasts was for calmer weather the next day.

Mesquite sand dunes in Death Valley

Sand blowing across the road Death Valley

We made an early start the next morning and drove to Zabriskie Point, a popular sunrise viewing point. The views were great but the location was far too popular with selfie-stick wielding, jibbering tourists.

Zabriskie Point at sunrise

Zabriskie Point just after sunrise

Leaving Zabriskie ahead of the crowd we drove up into the mountains to Dante’s View, a 5,500ft viewpoint which looks out of the Badwater Basin. It was cool enough at 7.30am to need a coat, but we had the place almost completely to ourselves and the views were stunning. Recommended.

Dante's View Death Valley

Next up was a quick pit stop back at the hotel and then a drive round to and along Wildrose Canyon Road.

Our ultimate destination was an unusually well-preserved set of charcoal kilns, which are also the starting point for the Wildrose Peak walk. The paved road stops about 2 miles short of the charcoal kilns and becomes a fairly indifferent dirt road. (The kilns themselves were built to provide charcoal for a nearby silver mine but were only used for about 35 years before the mine shut. As a result, the kilns are unusually well preserved.)

Wildrose Peak Charcoal Kilns

Although it would be possible to take a normal road car up there (and some people do) I wasn’t keen and all but one of the few cars we saw up there were proper 4x4s. Instead of driving, we parked and walked the final two-mile stretch. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds — although it was a steady uphill slog, the temperature was only in the low 20sC due to already being at more than 6,000ft.

Unknown but cool bird

It turned out to be an enjoyable walk with some nice bird-spotting opportunities. But take plenty of water! There’s a parking area and pit toilets opposite the charcoal kilns. The dirt road continues up to the Mahogany Flats campsite at 8,000ft or so, which is also the starting point for the 14-miles Telescope Peak walk.

 

Finally, here’s a photo of the sand dunes as they appeared the next day when the wind had subsided:

Mesquite Sand Dunes Death Valley

Driving out of the park along Badwater Road the next day, we did of course stop at the Badwater, a nasty looking pool of salty water on the edge of the Badwater Basin salt flats.

Great views and a final chance to experience the intense heat and stillness of the desert before reluctantly heading back to civilization and the flight home.

I loved the whole desert experience and would go back in a heartbeat — although at a cooler time of year so that it would be practical to do more exploring and walking at ground level, rather than only in the mountains.

Comments on fuel & lodging:

  • Buying petrol in Death Valley National Park. Avoid it if possible, it’s (obviously) expensive. But we did notice that the price at Panamint Springs, which is the first filling station you come to when entering the park from the west, was around $1/gallon more expensive than the price at Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek, each of which also have filling stations.
    Panamint Springs fuel prices Oct 2015
    Panamint Springs fuel prices Oct 2015 — around $1/gallon than at Stovepipe and Furnace Creek. $2-$3 more than outside the National Park.

    I don’t know if it’s always like this or if it was the result of the refinery outage that was also causing higher prices elsewhere in California during the summer.

  • We stayed at the Stovepipe Wells Hotel. In such an awkward and remote location, you expect accommodation to be average in quality and fairly high in price, and it was. But there’s a reasonable restaurant and a big bar with a good choice of reasonably-priced beer. There’s also a swimming pool with towels provided.
    The rooms, while worn and relatively basic, would have been fine if they’d been cleaned properly. Although the bed linen/towels were clean, the floor desperately needed hoovering and the bathroom wasn’t as clean as it should have been. Staff were friendly and helpful, but as many other visitors have reported, wi-fi is next to useless. It wasn’t really bad, but it was the dirtiest room we stayed in during 17 days away.

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