After another crappy breakfast at the motel in Bryce, we started our 7 hour drive through 4 states to reach Death Valley National Park in California. Once we started heading northwest from Las Vegas, you start to really become aware of the remoteness which I actually felt a bit nerve-racking. I kept fearing that our little Kia Soul would breakdown in the heat and we’d be stranded. Fortunately, that never happened and we rolled into Stovepipe Wells later in the afternoon and checked into the motel. Death Valley holds the record for the hottest recorded temperature on earth and is also one of the driest places in the world. We dropped our bags off and drove to the visitors centre, where the current temperature was apparently 114 degrees Fahrenheit (45.5 degrees Celsius) and the humidity was around 7%. Now I can deal with the heat, but was unprepared for such a dry climate. Coming from southern Ontario where the humidity is always in the 90% range. With it being so dry, sweat immediately evaporates and you are susceptible to dehydration very quickly. We had purchased jugs of water at the beginning of our trip and kept them full whenever we headed out.
After a quick stop at the visitors centre, we took a short hike on the Salt Creek Trail before watching the sunset on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The sand dunes are one place I wish we had more time to explore as it’s such a unique feature, but out hunger and tiredness got the best of us. The restaurant at the motel was actually pretty good. We just hung out in the room that evening as we planned for an early rise to beat the heat.
To avoid the midday heat, there are signs everywhere warning people to not be out in the sun past 10am. So we woke up at 5:30am and drove the 45 minutes to Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America at almost 86 metres below sea level. It was one of the most surreal places I’ve ever been to. Since it’s below sea level, there’s no place for water to flow, so all the minerals and salts in flowing water settle here. It looks like snow and ice, but it’s salt and crunchy underfoot. We walked out into the valley about 1.5 kilometres before turning back. After spending about an hour there, we moved on to the Devil’s Golf Course – a large salt pan on the valley floor, which is made from large halite salt crystal formations. Fun to walk across but a twisted ankle waiting to happen. Rather than risk injury, we checked out the Artists Drive and Artists Palette, before hitting Golden Canyon. By then it was getting extremely hot, so we turned back and had lunch at the village saloon at the motel.
After lunch, we drove through Twenty Mule Team Canyon and then up to Dante’s View at 1,669 metre with stunning views over the valley. We spent a bit more time at the visitors centre, before cooling off in the motel room for an afternoon nap. After dinner we went for a swim in the pool, which was surprisingly cooler that I had expected.
Our flight was around noon, so we had to leave around 7am for the 2 hour drive back to Las Vegas, where we grabbed some breakfast, returned the rental car and flew home. This feels like it was a once in a lifetime trip, even though I could see returning to a couple spots with the rest of the family. It’s such a unique part of the world that I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for a different vacation than sitting on a beach or in a resort. We experienced temperature ranges from 10 degrees to 45 degrees and elevations from 86 metres below sea level to 2,555 metres and loved every minute of it.