Don’t you love when unplanned things go very well?
The night before leaving to Las Vegas, we received a suggestion to visit Death Valley National Park on our way back to Los Angeles. I was intrigued by the proposition. Once I arrived home, instead of going to bed, I started to check distances between points. One hundred and twenty miles from Las Vegas to one of the park’s visitor center. Almost 300 hundred miles from the park to our house. Forget it. That was not going to happen in a day.
But some ideas don’t get out of your mind so easily. I guess the thoughts of visiting the driest, lowest and hottest place in the United States were enough to push us to consider the idea of driving hundreds of miles in one day. The temperature was ideal and we were already close.
So, in a blurry moment that I cannot remember, we decided to go. We bought water and food, filled up the gas tank, wrote directions on a piece of paper (do you think there is GPS service inside the park?) and set the odometer to zero.
The pleasant drive thru the dessert, wildlife refuges and mountain passes, disappeared too fast. We knew we were close to the goal because the dark mountain colors started to turn into reds, yellows and greens. Some rocks seemed to be melting over the slopes of some peaks.
When the odometer was about to mark 100 miles, we saw the sign welcoming us to the “Death Valley National Park – Home of the Timbisha Shoshone.” We stopped for photos, of course.
A few miles ahead, we stopped at an information kiosk. We paid the park fee (on a machine, nobody was enforcing it) and took a visitor guide which contained a big map, an essential in a place where modern phones lose their smartness.
With the guide in hand, we were able to plan our day. The park is huge, it has an area of 3,000 sq mi and it is 140 miles long (that is longer than Puerto Rico). We decided to take a look at the most popular spots on the south western part of the park. The other parts will have to wait till another visit (no castle this time).
We were very pleased to start our visit by stopping at Zabriskie Point. The area is surrounded by vibrantly colored badlands. It was out first taste of how multihued the desert can be. I wanted to stay longer and get lost in the maze of curves. However, we had to continue in order to maximize our time. The journey was just beginning.
Keep tuned. I have more stories and photos to share about the park.
Recommendations for Visiting the Park
- A day trip from Las Vegas is feasible. The road is in really good condition and the changes in elevation are gradual. Take into consideration that outfitters charge about $200 per person to visit the park from Las Vegas.
- Bring water and food. There are some places to eat inside the park but you should not depend on them.
- Fill up the gas tank before visiting. You don’t want to know the prices inside or around the park.
- The best time to visit is November to March. In April, temperatures can reach 90 F. In summer, temperatures can rise to more than 115 F.
- Respect the speed limits and keep your eyes on the road.
- Do not rely on your phone. There is no cell service inside the park. Write driving direction when you are near a big city. Take a park map at one of the information or visitor centers.
- Don’t thrash the place.
- Pay the entrance fee. There are no kiosks or rangers on the park’s entrances. It is up to you to pay what is due (there are machines in different areas). I give importance to this point because the money from visitors is used to maintain the park. I believe it is important to take care of places like this. Additionally, the park has excellent roads, clean restrooms, signals, visitor centers and more. I do not regret paying to have all these facilities in such a remote place.
Have you visited Death Valley National Park? Let me know in the comments section below.