North America / See

[see] The Hottest Place on Earth: Death Valley

Who would be stupid enough to voluntarily go check out THE hottest place on Earth? Me! Who would be stupid enough to accompany me? *E! (He had no choice, poor guy).

— 15 Nov 2013 —

With a packed breakfast and BIG coffee, Frances waved us off onto our next adventure. I will miss her and Zion Ponderosa. It was definitely the best place we had stayed in so far.

The Journey

Point A: Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort
Point B: Death Valley National Park
Distance: 310 miles (500 km)

First stop was to get fuel. The long stretch of road through the desert was somewhere I did NOT want to be stranded. Here, *E plugged in our route into Siri and off we went. Or so we thought. It turned out that Siri was taking us in the wrong direction (damn you Siri and hence why you are part of my lessons learnt). Doubling back, we passed through Zion National Park and off we went. Again.

The scenery wasn’t too interesting after we passed through Zion. It all look too ordinary now after the amazing scenery in the national park. There were no more maple leaves scattered on the road, red rock or waterfalls, so there was a lot of story telling (*E did really well in keeping me awake!) until we crossed the California/Nevada border and into Death Valley National Park.

We stopped by the ticket office at Scotty’s Castle to grab a map of the national park and information regarding any road closures. The closures were due to a flash flood earlier in the year (very weird).

FYI: You can find current road condition on the Death Valley Road Conditions Facebook page (I find the fact Death Valley has a FB account more weird than a flash flooding in the desert).

*E had read that Dantes View was a great view-point to view the sunset but the ranger advised that we would not make it in time and Zabriskie Point was the next best view-point. With only 30 mins left till sunset, we thanked her and was out of the ticket office quick stat.

We raced to Zabriskie Point with minutes to spare. The walk up to the top was quite steep and the most exercise both of us had done in a while. Once at the top, we just sat there and watched the sun set and moon rise (behind us).

That’s *E concentrating on taking his billionth photo of the sunset.

After taking in the gorgeousness of it all and filling our cameras with another gazillions photos of the same thing (we were very good at emptying the SD card every night hence why we could take a gazillion photos at every stop), we threw our bags in the room and headed straight to down a Death Valley IPA (light beer for you non-Americans).

The next morning we headed out early in order to see all we wanted to see: the Mesquite Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin and the Golden Canyon (I actually wanted to see Mosaic Canyon but I was overruled).

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are quite flat sitting at around 130 to 140 ft (40 to 43m), nothing like the ones you find in Namibia. The last time I climbed sand dunes were in Wilderness, carrying a paragliding canopy and seat. That was not fun. Thinking this time would be easier because I wasn’t carrying anything other than my phone, I decided to power up the dunes.

Bad idea. Very bad idea indeed.

My legs were tired halfway up the first one. At the top of the first dune, I was thinking “Fuck, there’s so many of them before reaching the tallest one”. I powered on nonetheless without looking back. Up and down, up and down. After what seemed like forever, I was no nearer to the tallest dune and my legs hurt like hell. I stopped, looked back and found… *E chilling on the top of the first one!!! This probably wasn’t fun for him because he’s climbed and sand boarded on Dune 45 in Namibia before. This was nothing in comparison.

The cracking patterns on the ground.

Interesting fact: The sand dunes have been used to film scenes for the Star Wars series.

After I’d had my fun (*E wasn’t fazed by my running, jumping and whatever else I was doing), we headed over to Badwater Basin. *E was excited to see the salt flat as he had never seen one before. I was excited to be at the lowest point in North America.

And yes, this was how ecstatic I was about the whole experience.

ZOMG!!! I made it to the lowest point of the U S of A. Badwater Basin, Death Valley.

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Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. The salt pan covers approximately 200 square miles (5,180 sq km) and is 20 times smaller than the world’s largest salt pan, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. I’ve seen Makgadikgadi Pan (Botswana) and Lake Amadeus (Australia) from afar but have never walked on a salt pan before. I didn’t think it was all is was cracked up to be, but it was interesting to walk out into the vastness and get burnt by the reflection of the sun rays on the white-ish salt (thank goodness for the SPF 100+ sunscreen I had on!). One thing I haven’t done before is eat salt off the salt pan, so I decided to give it a go.

Needless to say, it was quite salty. But check out the fine details of the salt crystals. The “hairs” are so delicate!

After eating all the salt I could handle, we headed to the Golden Canyon. Nothing to report from there as it was not what I had expected and we didn’t walk far enough into the canyon for the “interpretative” part of the trial but the heat was getting to us so we decided to head towards our next adventure, Yosemite National Park!

I just hoped we weren’t going to break down anywhere along this stretch of road.

One freakin' long road out of Death Valley

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Death Valley National Park
Open all year round (even Thanksgiving and Christmas Day!) with different operating times for the Furnace Creek and Scotty’s Castle visitor centers.
From the East (Zion): U.S. Take Interstate 15 South towards Las Vegas, turn right on Clark County Route 215 West, turn right on U.S. Route 95 which runs parallel to the park from north to south. You can get to Death Valley via left turns on State Route 373 or State Route 374.
From the West (LA): Head east on Interstate 10 East, turn left on Interstate 15 North, turn left on U.S. Route 395 which runs parallel to the park from north to south. You can get to Death Valley via a right turn on Highway 190 East.
Park entrance fee is USD $20 per vehicle for 7 days or USD $40 per vehicle for an annual pass (why you would need this is beyond me).
Other attractions include the Scotty’s Castle Living History Tour and Underground Tour where tickets are USD $15 (adults) and USD $7.50 (children) or the Lower Vine Ranch Tour where tickets are USD $20 (adults) and USD $10 (children).


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