February 2018 Trip Report: Death Valley National Park

As another holiday weekend falls upon us soon, I need to catch and recap my last holiday trip! In case you're unaware, I try to maximize every holiday weekend there is given my full time corporate job. 

This past President's Day weekend, I decided to take the opportunity to check out Death Valley National Park and was so glad I did! I'm sure Death Valley is not at the top of most people's travel list, but it's a pretty great and easy getaway for all fitness levels. I also chose this time of the year to go as otherwise, as you can imagine, it's hella hot to go during the summertime, where temperatures can get up to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit! I wasn't sure what the weather would be like in February, even though I looked at those weather website where they tell you the averages. I would say you can use those sites as a gauge, but in reality, the temperatures vary depending on where you are in the park, which is pretty big. We were lucky and had great weather for the two days we were visiting. During the day it was sunny, no wind, and got up to 75 degrees. However, by sun down/evening, the temperature quickly dropped to the 40s. I think the few days after we left though it was super windy (as it was crazy windy in Las Vegas!). 

 Bad to the Bone

Bad to the Bone

We left NYC on a Thursday evening and arrived into Las Vegas by 6 pm. We decided to stay the night there since accommodations near the park were pretty much fully booked, despite being in the middle of nowhere. Most people recommend staying in one of the hotels right in the park but they were pretty pricey so we stayed a little bit further away at Longstreet Hotel and Casino. If you plan on going during a holiday weekend, be sure to book in advance. We got one of the very last rooms and this place was sold out when we were there. It's a super kitschy hotel (think Western statues and other icons plastered around the hotel) and it was literally in the middle of nowhere (it sits just by the border of Nevada and California, with hardly any other structures around). However, it was clean, budget-friendly, and only a 30 min. drive from the park's entrance. We didn't mind the drive since you're greeted by the long range of jagged mountains all around. Time past by quick as we stared out the windows.

Anyway, we stayed in Las Vegas Thursday night and early Friday morning, we left Vegas before 9 am to drive 2.5 hours into the park. Our first stop was at the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek. For planning our trip, the park's website was super helpful. It's always being updated and you should check to see what's open and closed (Scotty's Castle is closed until 2020 and when we were visiting Dante's View was closed too for construction of the roads). I really went by the park's "must see highlights" which was pretty accurate.

 The flat of the land (salt flats!)

The flat of the land (salt flats!)

Coming from Las Vegas, the park's website also provides recommendations. Luckily it seems the most appealing places to visit are on the eastern side of the park, closer to Vegas, so this is where we predominantly spent our time. Our itinerary in summary was as follows:

Friday Afternoon:

  • Noon - arrived at the park; paid for admission at the Visitor's Center in Furnace Creek (there is a place to pay near the official entrance but the Visitor's Center has clean bathrooms!).
  • 12:30 pm - arrived in Badwater Basin. Walked out about a mile onto the salt flats (you kind of have to get pictures similar to mine below!)
  • 1:30 pm - quick stop at Devil's Golf Course (totally skippable, you'd be there for probably less than 15 minutes and the road to get here was quite rough/bumpy as it's a dirt road, not paved)
  • 2 pm - Headed to Artist's Palette, which is a very scenic drive. Once we got to the central point, we parked and walked around for a bit (you can hike up and around if you'd like).
  • 3 pm - arrived at Zabriskie Point, enjoyed the view
  • 3:45 pm- headed to our hotel to check in
  • 6 pm - Drove to the next town east (Parhump) for dinner, 30 min. away

Saturday:

  • 9:30 am - arrived at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which is further west in the park near Stovepipe. This was over an hour's drive from the hotel. We walked around the sand dunes for quite bit, maybe 90 minutes or so.
  • 11 am - have an early lunch in the town of Stovepipe at the only restaurant! It was actually pretty good. Gas was also the cheapest in Stovepipe compared to Furnace Creek, so load up since gas stations are few and far between in this area!
  • 12:30 pm - Checked out Mosaic Canyon. Spent only a half hour here as it really narrows the further into the canyon you go. It's pretty to see the marble canyon but can be slippery to walk through!
  • 2 pm - Headed back to the eastern side of the park to check out Golden Canyon, where parts of the original Star Wars was filmed. Walked about 2 miles here and headed out by 4 pm as the sun was going down and we didn't want to be left here in the dark (the sun set around 5:15 pm).
  • 4:30 pm - On our way back out the eastern entrance of the park, you can check out 20 Mule Team Canyon. I didn't really understand what this place was at first, but it's basically a one way road around a canyon and it's a fun drive. You feel like you're in another world!
  • 6 pm - Dinner up the road from the hotel (a few miles away--there really isn't a lot of nearby options).

Sunday morning - headed back to civilization towards Las Vegas

 Badwater Basin - a mile out walk from the parking lot

Badwater Basin - a mile out walk from the parking lot

I'm really surprised how much I loved this short trip. It was easy to get to and the landscape was pretty scenic and different as you moved throughout the park. Devil's Golf Course was the only thing not worth checking out in my opinion, as I hate the feeling of possibly getting a flat tire from a dirt road. It wasn't worth that risk!

 Devil's Gold Course....not much to do but have a peek at it

Devil's Gold Course....not much to do but have a peek at it

The drive all around the park was cool, especially with the sun beating down. I loved how bright and natural everything looked. The best drive was the one towards Artist's Palette. The road rolls through the canyons, winding up and down.

 Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette

The landscape is so different from one mile to the next, or just from the bend of the corner of the road. I was sad that Dante's View was closed. Zabriskie's Point is a nice alternative lookout and people usually come here for sunrise or sunset. I thought the park would be super crowded for the holiday weekend but it never got out of control. We never had issues with parking at each of the lots for any sight we visited over the weekend though there were definitely a lot of visitors to the park. 

 Groove is in the heart at Zabriskie Point

Groove is in the heart at Zabriskie Point

Mesquite Sand Dune was the best highlight. You can hike out as far as you'd like, but I think the highest sand dune is about a mile from the parking lot. We basically followed footsteps in the sand, though you'll see hundreds of them tracking each other. We also saw families bring boogie board to go sand sledding on the dunes. The hike through was not easy, especially if you're walking up a steep sand dune! Great workout though :)

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By the way, there is hardly any cell phone reception in the park. I highly recommend downloading a map of the area on Google Maps so that you can access it when you're offline. This helped a lot and served as our GPS. Or you can also print out map information from the park's website as a back up as well.

 Mesquite Sand Dunes

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Behind the town of Stovepipe Wells is a long road up to Mosaic Canyon. This was also a dirt road but Mosaic Canyon was a nice, short and sweet stop. You can walk all the way in but just went about half a mile to where the path narrows since we wanted to head back and also visit Golden Canyon before it got dark.

 Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon

Golden Canyon has served as the scene for the very first Star Wars movie, which is cool. It is very alien-like! You can hike Golden Canyon all the way to Zabriskie Point but we just walked a mile in and a mile back out. 

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Overall a really active and fun trip. I love that I got my nature/hiking fix in. Definitely bring your own food/snacks since it's very limited in terms of food options here. There is more to see (on the Western side) but it was too far for us to add in and I'm happy with what we saw/did in the couple of days we were here. 

 Get out! To Zabriskie Point :)

Get out! To Zabriskie Point :)