Death Valley Attractions
Inyo CountyLocation and importanceThe Death Valley region, low in rainfall and protected as a national monument, (land area 3,000sq.mi/7,770sq.km), lies in central southeast California, extending slightly into the U.S. federal state of Nevada, and includes the 140-mi (225km)-wide and 4-16-mi (6-26km)-wide desert valleys of the Amargosa River and Salt Creek, as well as the surrounding chains of mountains known as the Panamint Range in the west, and the Amargosa Range in the east.How to get thereThe valley can be reached from three sides: From Los Angeles it is 300mi/480km, via the U.S. 15 Highway as far as Baker, then via the CA 127 as far as the sign for Dante's View and thence to the Visitor Center via the CA 190. From Las Vegas in Nevada, 140mi/224km away, you take the U.S. 15, then the 127 to Death Valley Junction and the 190 direct to the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek. From Lone Pine on the CA 395, you drive direct to Death Valley on the CA 136 and 190.The highlights of Death Valley fall within Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley National Park
The impressive scenery of this geological multiform desert (maximum temperature 56.7°C), with its wondrous rocky wastes and sand-dunes, conceals numerous streams and a rich animal and plant life including succulents of all kinds. Twenty-one species of plants and trees found here are unique to the valley.Rock-drawings, hearths and supply trails have all been found, providing evidence of pre-historic settlements in almost all parts of Death Valley.HistoryOriginDeath Valley is a harsh wilderness, with high mountain peaks and deep valleys, sand dunes like those in the Sahara, oases where date-palms grow, water courses below sea level, and a rich flora, especially in spring, which belies the name given to the whole region. Death Valley is also of great geological interest. Many years ago it was an inland lake; the mountains were formed as the result of mighty land eruptions, and the water evaporated under the merciless sun. The formation of the mountains was accompanied by a lowering of the valley bottom; the valley came into being not through erosion, as most did, but as a result of a shift in the earth's crust. Thus Telescope Peak was raised from 280ft/86m below sea level to 11,050ft/3,368m above. What we see in many parts today is a world of rock in every color imaginable which never fails to amaze the visitor.When discoveredThis wonder of nature was discovered more or less by chance in 1849 when some adventurers, wanting to find their way as quickly as possible to the land of the gold-rush to the west, wandered into the inhospitable desert from which they escaped again only after considerable hardship and difficulty. They had to abandon their wagons and eat the oxen which pulled them in order not to starve - they also gave the area its present name. A few years later they were followed by men who believed they would find gold and silver. It is true that they found a few veins of these valuable metals but their labors were scarcely worthwhile and they soon moved on to pastures new."White gold" (borax)Then, however, "white gold" was discovered in the desert - borax, an important chemical used in many branches of industry. At the start teams of two horses and eighteen mules (not just mules, as the legendary description of 20-mule teams would have us believe) had to pull their load over a distance of 165mi/264km to Mojave which took them ten days. Eventually, a railway was built. In 1881 Harmony Borax Works (near Furnace Creek), which is now partly restored and open to visitors, came into operation; others followed and the quantities of borax, which is still mined to some extent in Death Valley today, increased within a few years to hundreds of thousands of tons. Today borax is used mainly in the production of glass and glass-fibbers, as well as in the soap industry.Although Death Valley has been a "National Monument" since 1933, borax can still be mined within its boundaries, but only underground. There are also still optimists who climb around in the deep canyons of Death Valley in the mostly vain hope of stumbling upon a vein of gold. However, the many thousands who come to Death Valley year after year (in the season, there are sometimes as many as 10,000 in one day) do so because of the unique scenery.
Address: Highway 190, Box 579, Death Valley, CA 92328-0570, United States
Entrance fee in USD: $5.00, Vehicle plus all occupants $10.00, Camping fee $10.00
Useful tips: Pets allowed, but must be on a leash, and barred from public facilities or on trails. Carry extra water. Warning: valley is extremely hot in summer.
From Zabriskie Point, return to the CA 190, and then drive a further 4mi/6.4km along a one-way road to 20-Mule-Team Canyon, a very winding stretch which is not easy to negotiate, then 19mi/30km up to the viewing platform Dante's View (an allusion to hell as described by the Italian poet). You are now at a height of 5,478ft/1,669m and the temperature is considerably cooler than in Furnace Creek.The view from the top looks out over the valley floor as far as the eye can and across to the mountains that line the far side of the valley.
From Furnace Creek you should start the tour as early as possible the next morning, first going in a southerly direction for 4mi/6.4km to Zabriskie Point, from where there is a fantastic view of the western part of Death Valley and the Panamint Mountains. Here you are surrounded by gold-colored rocks; in the foreground is Manly Bacon Peak, named after one of the men who were the first to cross the desert in 1849, the first white people to do so. Indians of the Shoshone tribe, who called the area "tomesha" or "fiery earth", had been there for 7,000 years.
Located at the south end of Death Valley National Park is Badwater, the lowest point of land in the western hemisphere at 277ft/85m below sea level. This area is very hot, even in the winter.Badwater is a shallow lake surrounded by mountains and rimmed with salt. When the air is still, which it often is in the morning and early evening, the mountains across the valley reflect into the water and at sunset the color is beautiful. Depending on the time of year Badwater may be quite full or have very little water, in which case it is less spectacular.There is a parking area here and boardwalks that allow you to walk out into the flood plain.
Scotty's Castle is probably the strangest building you could expect to find in this part of the country. You can only visit it as part of a guided tour. It was built in the twenties by a Chicago businessman named Albert Johnson, about a decade before Death Valley was declared a national monument. At the time there were still no roads, and all building materials had to be obtained the hard way. In addition to the main house with its 50ft/15m high living-room, in which the Johnsons only stayed for one month in the year, there are stables, a guest-house, a house for the staff, and a bell-tower, all maintained in the Hispano-Moorish style. The contents of the house are original; furniture, books and paintings are those owned by the Johnsons.On the upper floor are the bedrooms and an unusual music room with a magnificent organ (1,600 pipes) which is also fitted with self-playing musical cylinders as Mrs Johnson was not a very good organist. The house was never completed, however; before the garden, swimming pool and illuminated tiled courtyard could be finished, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 came and Johnson lost almost all his money. The house went to a religious institution from whom the National Park acquired it in 1970."Scotty's Castle" was the unofficial name for this strange building. It comes from "Death Valley Scotty", an adventurer who was also a confidence trickster and who bore the same name as the writer Walter Scott. Although not as much as one single brick belonged to him, he told anyone who would listen that the house was his and that Johnson was only his "banker"! In time people believed him.At the north end of the valley, the castle was built in the 1920s by Chicago millionaire, Albert Johnson, as a vacation retreat. It contains original furnishings, art and even clothing.
Devil's Golf Course (Artist's Drive)
Devil's Golf Course is a flat expanse of sharp salt crystals that seem to go on endlessly. It has the appearance of a field of jagged boulders made of salt along the valley floor. There is a pull out area and small parking lot.Nearby, Artist's Drive is a one-way road that leads past dramatic rock formations. One area on this road is known as Painter's Palette because of the array of colors that can be seen in the rocks.These are both primary sights in Death Valley which are easy to see from the comfort of your car and don't require hiking.
Harmony Borax Works
From Badwater you should return to Furnace Creek for a rest and to recuperate, perhaps also have a refreshing swim in the pool which is fed by a stream, and then you are off again to see the sights to the north. The nearest is the Harmony Borax Works; from there you can make a small detour to the sand dunes on the road leading to Stove Pipe Wells, which are most beautifully illuminated towards sunset.Aaron Winters found borax on the Death Valley saltpan in 1881. He soon sold his claims to William T. Coleman, builder of the Harmony Borax Works, where borate-bearing muds were refined until 1889. Among the crumbling adobe walls is the old broiler and some of the vats. Closed in 1890, this was the first successful borax works in the history of borax mining in Death Valley.
Furnace Creek Inn
Can one "do" Death Valley in a day? It is possible if you arrive in the evening, stay there overnight (facilities only from the middle of October until the end of May), and then follow a definite plan. In Furnace Creek, the center of Death Valley which lies below sea level, there is a hotel and a motel (for both it is essential to book in advance). Here also there is a National Park Service information office, a post office (closed in summer) and a filling station.The Furnace Creek Inn was built in 1927.
The Ubehebe Crater, measures about 0.5mi/1km wide and 400ft/122m deep, the only crater in the area which resulted from a volcanic explosion.Located at the north end of Death Valley, the landscape here is different from other areas of the park, with lava flows and cinders. The ground is dark. If you are feeling up for a walk there are trails that lead down into the crater.
Ryan Borax Mine
On the way to 20-Mule Team Canyon, you will pass the still active Ryan Borax Mine. From here you can look down onto the lowest point of the American continent, Badwater, which lies 280ft/86m below sea level. A mere 10mi/16km away you can see the 10,380ft/3,300m high Telescope Peak, which is often snow-capped until June.