Sightseeing in Death Valley

Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Graham Bishai.

Artist’s Drive and Palette

Artist’s Drive

Though few people know it, a trip to Death Valley is not complete without cruising Artist’s Drive. This small backroad loop takes you along base of the Funeral Mountains, a short range of mountains that form the eastern wall of Death Valley. The winding, nine-mile road takes you the beginning of steep terrain, giving you an up-close view of dark red and brown cliffs on one side, and a breathtaking panoramic view into the valley on the other. About halfway along the drive, you’ll see incredible colors on a rock face, created by chemical reactions of the metals in the stone. Let your car roam free as you snake between cliffs, knowing you share the same amazement as the first human to see this spot.

Admission included with park entry

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Off CA-190 in Stovepipe Wells; open daily 24hr

This is what you picture when you think of a desert. Just sand, sand, and more sand. Yet most of Death Valley isn’t that. Mesquite Flat is the 0.001% of Death Valley covered in dunes. Mesquite Flat is sort of a misnomer: the dunes are actually large mounds of hot sand, and you’re free to walk all over them or slide down a drift if you’re feeling adventurous. You’ll be able to fully grasp the vastness of Death Valley as the steaming hot winds barrel past you, making fresh ripples in the desert floor. The dunes come from sand blown off canyon rocks that was trapped by the direction of the wind in the mountain valley. You might be tempted to ditch your shoes and go barefoot, but watch out: that sand is sizzling hot. Mesquite Flat is also the one place in the park where sandboarding is allowed—which, well, is exactly what it sounds like.

Admission included with park entry

Zabriskie Point

4.8 mi west on Highway 190 from Furnace Creek

They’re called badlands, but that’s misleading. There’s nothing bad about them. This whole area was once filled with lakes, and when they dried up 5 million years ago, they left behind clay, sandstone, and siltstone deposits. Seismic activity and underground pressure causes the valley’s floor to fold into the intriguing ridges that push up against one another. Here, you’ll realize just what a natural wonder Death Valley is, and get the chance to walk right along some of the rock formations you’ve been enjoying. But even more, you’ll also get a gorgeous view out into the Valley, especially if you go at sunset. The sun kisses these severely-wrinkled giant formations goodnight with a shimmering glow as it ducks down beneath the horizon, letting a front of (relatively-speaking) cool weather sweep in and take over for the night.

Admission included with park entry

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek, CA, CA-190

Furnace Creek is the tourist-oriented center of Death Valley, and with a crazy-high population of 24 people, it is the most developed place within the park. It’s a resort town, and home to the park’s visitors center and museum. Its claim to fame is the record for the highest reliably recorded air temperature on Earth: 134 degrees in July 1913, and the highest reliably recorded ground surface temperature of 201 degrees in July 1972. That, my friend, is hot enough to fry an egg. It’s an island of green in a sea of beige, leading some to call it a desert oasis. It even has a golf course. With green grass! (We’d like to see that water bill.) For a town of 24, it’s really got a lot: two hotels, a restaurant, café, gas station, museum, and airport. It’s not a must-do, but you’ll be glad if you stop by the visitor center, where you can watch a 20-minute film about the park, which is aired from 8:30am-4pm daily. You can also chat to park rangers and explore exhibits to learn about the Park’s rich natural and human history.

Admission included with park entry

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