Death Valley, CA is the hottest place on the planet, with a world record temperature of 134 F (57 C). It is also the driest place in the U.S., with less than 2 inches of rain per year, and the lowest, with Badwater Basin being 282 feet below sea level.
So why would anyone want to visit this hot, dry desert? In June? First, because the landscape is fascinating, colorful, unique. Second, because we happen to be passing through it on our way to the Grand Canyon.
We only spent a day here, but wish we had stayed longer. There is much to see, and if it’s summer, you’re going to want to see most everything before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. because the heat is strong, powerful, and thirsty—capable of sucking the moisture right out of you.
We arrived in the evening to warm, desert breezes at Panamint Springs Resort on the western edge of Death Valley. Looking out at the expanse of sagebrush-dotted flat lands and the mountains in the distance, with the cloudy sky still full of color, I felt at peace.
In the morning, we first stopped at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where we had a blast jumping off the dunes, which are up to 100 feet tall. We had to wear socks because at 10 a.m., the sand was scorching hot.
We wanted to explore Mosaic Canyon, where you can hike through a narrow, marble-walled canyon of immeasurable beauty, but the road to it was closed for construction. We then joined the hordes of tourists up the steep walkway to take in the spectacular views at Zabriskie Point, which the park describes as “a maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands.” It was worth it. Ignore the crowds; go do this!
We made a final stop at Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center, with its cool exhibits and the history of mining here in Death Valley. The kids loved running through there. We skipped Scotty’s Castle, as it was out of our way, but I had been there before long ago. It’s worth a visit if you’re staying a while. We also skipped Furnace Creek Ranch, with its buzzing bars, restaurants, and cafes. We had to move on to our next destination.
I imagine Death Valley is a photographers haven: there is so much beauty to capture in the pattern of the rocks and the landscape. If you are visiting Death Valley, a good list of the sights to see is this one. If you’re looking for (mostly) short hikes that bring you up close to some of Death Valley’s best features, check out this list on the park’s website. (Given more time, that’s what I would do: see the sights through these hikes.)
Also, be sure to pick up The Guide, which the park distributes upon entering Death Valley NP. The Guide lists numerous things to see and do. That’s how I learned that there are swimming pools at Furnace Creek Ranch and Stovepipe Resort. The kids would love that! Uhm, so would we.
Finally, be sure to drink plenty of water, eat salty snacks, and wear a hat and sunscreen.