Years ago I went with some friends to explore Death Valley. We were curious and wanted to see what was there. I expected to see a large sandbox perhaps with a few cactus plants and Joshua trees. I was surprised to find that Death Valley was nothing like I imaged. Many years later I returned to the valley for a photo safari. We went just before Christmas when the weather was cool during the day and cold at night.
When first entering Death Valley I was surprised by the colors. Lots of colors including yellows, oranges, beiges, and browns. There was light and dark smooth and layered depending on where you looked. The landscape changed dramatically as you drive through the park. There is traditional cracked ground, mountains, valleys, hills, strange salt formations, borax flats, salt flats, oases and running water, a giant crater, Scotty’s Castle, etc.
Getting There: We drove on Hwy-395 and took Hwy-190 into the park. We were on the top of the mountain pass looking down on the valley and the thin winding highway. We parked and did a short walk to get some photos. It was still early morning and the sun was low in the sky and casting a golden hue on the landscape. Death Valley is a huge place and it took more time than expected to get from the pass to the Valley. Once we cleared the mountains there were long stretches of road running through a stereotypical desert environment.
Stovepipe Wells is the one major junction in Death Valley. The Visitors’ Center and some major sand dunes are there. On our second day we spent much of the morning taking photos of the dunes in the low morning light. The dune area was huge and some of the dunes were massive. I planned on spending an hour or so at the dunes and we probably spent at least three hours there.
Sand Dunes: The wind on the fine sand created a wide variety of patterns accentuated by the low morning sunlight. The dunes were a bit difficult to climb due to the softness of the sand. The landscape continued to change as I climbed over each dune. There were a variety of colors, textures, shadows, and shapes in all directions.
The Harmony Borax Works was one of the industries in Death Valley. It operated from 1883-1888. The borax flats are very light in color and almost painful to view when the sun is bright and high in the sky. There is an interpretive trail and a number of artifacts at the site.
The Devil’s Golf Course contains strange salt formations left by dried salt lakes. The salt was shaped by winds and rain and is constantly changing. The salt formation seem to stretch as far as you can see.
Valley Overlook: On the Nevada side of Death Valley is an overlook that allows you see much of the valley. The drive to the summit is steep and windy but manageable to drive as long as you are careful and go slow. From here you can see the vastness of the valley.
Ubehebe Crater is one of the biggest surprises in Death Valley. As you drive through a typical desert area you drive up to a HUGE crater. The layered sides of the crater are very colorful. The dark sand in this area contrasts with the lighter sand in much of the valley. Just another surprising and unexpected feature in the valley.
There are numerous canyons, hills, mines, trails, and other assorted sights to see in Death Valley. I recommend going there in the cooler months. The weather will be more cooperative and there will be fewer people. Death Valley is a place full of arid beauty, varied geology, and lots of surprises.