Before visiting Death Valley for the first time, I questioned how interesting a place it really could be. After all it’s a remote piece of desert straddling eastern California. But not only is Death Valley a strikingly beautiful place with much to offer, it leaves you with a new sense of how contrasting nature can look in a single park. With this in mind, I offer you my top 5 picks for things to see in Death Valley.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Seemingly endless miles of towering sand dunes are right off highway 190 as you enter the park from the west. They come alive at sunset, when shadows cast long, and the dune crests shift in the wind. Something pure and romantic arrives when you walk into them.
The Racetrack, and The Rocks That Move
About two hours drive from, Mesquite Springs campground is a large playa, a flat silt lake bed known to be among the flattest natural formations on earth. Here a remarkable landscape emerges, the likes of which inspire surrealist painters like Salvador Dali. Walking along the playa with you bare feet instills a state of zen, as the your eyes take in the contrast between the white velvet ground below you and the dark mountains in the distance. Let your imagination take flight.
At the south end of the playa are a group of stones with a mysterious past. While the playa’s surface is uniform, etched in it are paths that these stone have carved, seemingly on their own. There are no other disturbances recorded in ground, just the paths. It was discovered that when the wind blows hard enough after a rain, the mud in the playa becomes so slick that the rocks get pushed along it. And this how the Racetrack gets its name.
Titus Canyon & A Ghost Town
This slot canyon with its towering banded walls is impressive. While Europe has its cathedrals and gothic architecture, these natural formations somehow invoke a similar sense of awe as you walk among them. Deep in the canyon is a Death Valley ghost town – Leadfield, where prospectors struck their claim back in the 1920s only to find their pockets empty. Titus Canyon is accessible by foot from the west, and by off-road vehicles only from the east.
Devil’s Golf Course
Probably one of the most unusual looking natural formations you’ll see in your life, the Devil’s Golf Course lies on the floor of Death Valley. Pictures do not do it justice. Halite salt crystals that freeze in place after being churned up in wind and rain create something resembling a sea frozen in time. Walk out onto it, if you dare. Just be careful as these formations are razor sharp and will cut up bare skin if you fall.
This is the lowest point in North America, at 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. This is the bottom of what was once an inland sea, now a closed basin revealing a thin salt flat. It offers yet another striking contrast to other features in the park. It’s low elevation also makes it one of the hotter places in the park. Check temperatures before heading there.
Death Valley is absolutely worth a trip, if only you get to see these features of the park. Don’t put it off like I did for so many years. But be forewarned, you’ll want to go back once you visit.