Anybody know where the highest temperature ever recorded on the face of our planet happens to be located?
Well, here is your first hint. We visited this place on May 14th and 15th. It was hot then, however, no where near the record 134 degrees Fahrenheit that was recorded there on 7/10/1913 at a place called Furnace Creek.
Honestly, this is one of those parks that we were going to just because its “on the list”. We didn’t have any real desire to go there, however, its not too far out of the way from the route to Las Vegas, our next stop. So, what the heck. Lets go check it out.
Big surprise, we had a blast there. In fact, we ended up spending two days exploring this place. Easy to do as it is such a large park, covering 3.4 million acres, ranking as the largest park in the lower 48.
Know the answer now?
For those who don’t yet know, the next clue is that this place receives less than two inches of rain per year.
Ok, next clue is that in 2001 this place went 154 consecutive days with a high temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alright, last (big) clue, the give-away, is that the lowest spot in North America is found here at 282 feet below sea level! Now you’ve got it, right?
Interestingly, that lowest point sits in the shadow of Telescopic Peak at 11,049 feet above sea level. Quite a contrast. One of many found throughout this amazing park.
The vast majority of Death Valley National Park is located along the southeastern border of California. A small section of the park is actually in Nevada’s Amargosa Desert region where we chose Longstreet Inn Casino & RV Park in Aramgosa Valley, NV as our home for three nights during our visit here. Its only about 35 miles from the Furnace Creek Visitors Center within the park and was adequate, basically a large parking lot that could probably hold a hundred RVs. We were one of no more than five in the place so it worked out just fine. (And, in case you are wondering, we did not gamble at all cause we are too cheap!)
We found this beauty standing in the parking lot at the RV Park…interesting, huh? Area must be big into diary ranching?
The initial ride into the park and to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center was so beautiful.
A pleasant surprise for us. Much more beautiful than we expected. Huge mountains of various colors, sand dunes, salt flats, just incredible scenery.
Our discussion with a Park Ranger at the visitors center got us oriented. We chose to go as far into the park as needed to see those things that peaked our interest this first day, hoping to minimize the drive time on the second day’s visit.
The first stop (and it was not easy to drive right past some of these places) was 45 miles away. I told you this was a big place. It actually brought us out of the park and back into Nevada just a few miles past the small section of the park located there.
There was a small sign on the left side of NV RT 374 hinting at the entrance to Titus Canyon Road. Not very noticeable and simply dirt, washboard dirt at that. You see, the Ranger suggested that we might have some fun with our Jeep if we went off-road for this 27 mile one-way drive through the canyon. High-clearence vehicles only and one-way because the canyon is so narrow at points that the Jeep barely fit through. What a blast!
Of course, some yahoo in a (likely, a rental) car thought they could do this too. We had a good laugh as they went flying by us (we had stopped so Siobhan could get pictures of some flowers) on their way into the canyon. Only a short distance further, we saw them making mini-K-turns, trying to turn around as it must have finally dawned on them that they were not going to make this trip in a car!
This was our first true off-road experience in the Jeep and it was so much fun! We got to see places that must others that come to the park just can not get to. And we got to experience that rush of adrenaline that only occurs on epic adventures. You know, the ones that you commit to at the beginning, wonder why you did that during the adventure as you contemplate your chances of survival and then cant wait to tell all your friends about once you make it back in one piece. Most of this ride was just a fun experience being out in the backcountry. A portion of it, however, certainly got our hearts pumping. The best way to describe this to you is this. Siobhan was in the passenger seat and we were climbing one of the peaks on the route. The edge of the road, only a foot or two from Siobhan’s side of the Jeep, had a sheer drop of hundreds of feet to the canyon floor. I could tell Siobhan was a bit uneasy as she got really quiet and her breathing seemed to stop. No problem for me as I was feeling very secure in the drivers seat on the inside of the turn with a nice solid rock wall climbing hundreds of feet above me. When Siobhan let out a loud “ahhhhhhh…..”, I knew she was scared. When she stomped her feet on the floor and literally stood up inside the Jeep, leaning completely over me trying to get to the drivers side of the Jeep, it was obvious that she was truly afraid. Her head and shoulders were on my side of the vehicle, she wanted out of that passenger seat. Can’t say I blame her. There was a very long drop and from her seat, she could not even see a road. Lots of decent size rocks to climb around or over, exciting to say the least! Once we completed the climb and started the decent into the canyon, I got my taste of what Siobhan experienced now that I was on the exposed side of the road most of the time. Exhilarating. (Limited pics though, both my hands were on the wheel!)
Driving through the canyon was a totally different feeling with the canyon walls stretching high above us as we could practically touch both walls right outside the Jeep windows. ar above us as we drove through spaces just barely wide enough for us to fit through. Really cool place. And that was just the first stop.
The next stop was another 24 miles further down the road to Ubehebe Crater. This hole in the ground is 600 feet deep and more than half a mile wide. It resulted from a Maar Volcano created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water causing an explosion.
The belief is that this crater was created within the last three hundred years. Awe-insiring view from the edge looking into this crater. It displays a wide range of colors that hopefully you will be able to see in the pics. And check out the info on the last slide regarding dehydration. Interesting that we found it in the bathroom at the closed Grapevine Ranger Station, the one located nearest Scotty’s Castle which is closed due to a mud slide that occurred last year.
After 48 miles back toward our starting point of Furnace Creek, we arrived at our third stop for the day, Stovepipe Wells. This is a very small village within the park that consists of a general store, hotel, cabins, a gas station and a saloon!
We walked around a bit, shopped in the store for souvenirs and filled up the gas tank before continuing on our way back toward Furnace Creek and the park exit.
Then a quick stop at Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes to observe them before making our final stop of the day at Harmony Borax Works interpretative trail. I’ll bet many of you remember the 20-mule-team covered wagons that became the symbol of borax soap many years ago. Well, that advertising slogan was all part of the borax mining efforts here in Death Valley where, at its peak, the Harmony Borax Works employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax daily. Additionally, back in the day, Death Valley was mined for all kinds of ores including gold, silver, antimony, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten. This all started in 1883 and essentially ended around 1915 although some limited mining operations continued through 1994 when Death Valley was established as a national park.
Day two in the park started with a trip back to the Furnace Creek area where you turn onto Badwater Road for the 17 mile drive to the lowest spot in North America, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level. Yeah, this is the spot where that 134 degree temp was recorded. The sun beats down on the white/silvery salt basin all day and the mountains surrounding the basin hold in the heat so it gets steamy quickly. We walked out quite a ways before reaching our limit and heading back to the Jeep. On the way, we could see a sign painted on a rock overlooking the parking area indicating where sea level is…pretty interesting perspective. Maybe you can spot this in one of the following pics.
On the drive back toward Furnace Creek, we stopped for a short and easy hike to the Natural Bridge. Only one mile round trip and relatively flat but hot! Fun to get out into the canyon and stretch our legs after lots of sitting while driving around.
Next was a drive through a one-way loop named Artists Palette, named for the amazing colors in the various layers of rock formations. And another hike into another canyon but we are just going to show you pics rather than trying to describe it….
Our final stop was at Zabriskie Point. This spot may present the most spectacular view in the entire park and its only a short walk up a paved path. The view includes Badwater Basin and its surrounding mountains. Incredible colors that change as the sun slowly moves across the sky. What a show!
This park was such a pleasant surprise. So glad we went and had the time to return for a second day. We are guessing that they won’t all turn out this way but we are more likely to make the effort to see the next park that is “just on the list” after such a wonderful experience here.