Death Valley National Park – November 2019

Death Valley Park Sign

Hannah – Age 6 – National Park #8

The drive from Ventura to Pahrump, NV (a city outside of Death Valley National Park) was a long one, and it was the first time I had ever encountered a dust storm.  My phone would buzz a weather alert and a few minutes later visibility would be less than five feet in front of us.  The wind was incredible.  We stopped for lunch in Barstow, one of the only larger cities between LA and Death Valley, and could barely make our way into the restaurant without getting pelted with sand in the face. 

After the long and somewhat stressful drive, we were happy to see the city ahead of us.  We were unsure what to expect in this city and were surprised when we saw a lot of casino advertisements.  We then recalled that we had crossed the border into Nevada.  In fact, our hotel, the Holiday Inn, shared a parking lot with a large casino next door. 

The Pour House for the Win

After a quick google search, we decided on the Pour House for dinner, which I later realized was actually inside a Best Western about a mile away.  Now, call me elitist, but normally I wouldn’t think of restaurants inside Best Western hotels to be anything special.  However, we were pleasantly surprised at this one!  We walked in and saw a mini bowling alley that costed $1 or $2 per game that kept Hannah busy while my mom and I ordered a margarita and looked over the menu. 

The surprises of this restaurant kept on coming!  In addition to the American food on the menu, there was a complete Indian menu included (which you do not see online).  The waitress came over and told us the Indian food was amazing and explained that the Indian food is more “family-style”.  We ordered a vegetarian masala (or something similar to that) over jasmine rice with a side of the most delicious garlic naan bread I’ve ever tasted.   She wasn’t kidding – the food was plentiful and mouth-watering.  We ended up taking leftovers that fed us the following night as well.

Death Valley

The next morning we drove the 30 minutes to Death Valley National Park.  The park seemed massive as we made our way to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.  Hannah LOVES the visitor centers and this one was definitely impressive.  We met with a ranger and she gave us a map that she went over with us, highlighting the various hikes we should do and even suggesting certain times to visit a few stops to coincide with sunset and/or ranger talks.

By the time I finished with the ranger, Hannah was long gone in the museum with my mom.  The museum was impressive with a lot for Hannah to look at, touch, and read.  We learned the following as we walked through, giving us all the more appreciation of this park. 

Death Valley Fun Facts

  • Hottest place on EARTH – Death valley holds the record for the hottest air temperature ever recorded at 134 degrees
  • Driest place in the United States – The average rainfall is less than two inches per year, and some years Death Valley does not get ANY rain
  • Lowest point in North America – Badwater Basin at Death Valley are 282 feet below sea level
  • Largest National Park in the lower 48 states – 3 million acres of desert wilderness
  • The mineral borax was mined in a part of Death Valley in the late 1800s.  In the 1920s, mining had slowed, so the Pacific Coast Borax Company transitioned the area to tourism and built the Furnace Creek Inn on the land, which is still in operation today.  The company fought to protect the land and Death Valley was deemed a national monument in 1933, and it became a national park in 1994.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – Hannah and Grandma

A Day in the Park

We had a full day of “drive, park, hike, repeat” that day.  I am going to give you a quick overview of each place we stopped without going too crazy in depth or this post would go on forever. Map of Death Valley

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – Impressive views and easy to access sand dunes right off the road.  Although nothing can quite compare to Great Sand Dunes National Park, this was a really fun stop.  The sand was a great temperature too for going barefoot!
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Mosaic Canyon – We had to drive about three miles off the main road on a very washed out skinny road, but it wasn’t as bad as the ranger told us it would be.  The hike was full of fun canyons, slides, and rocks to climb on.  This was my favorite hike of the day.
Mosaic Canyon
  • Salt Creek Interpretive Trail – Less than one mile boardwalk hike where you MIGHT see fish.  Unfortunately it was pretty dry while we were there, so this was not the most exciting hike.  Plus one of us was getting hungry. At this point, we were driving past the Visitor Center again, so we stopped in to use the restrooms and ate our lunch (PB&Js and apples) in the car on the way to the next stop.
  • Golden Canyon – You can see in the photo why this might be called “Golden Canyon”.  This was definitely Hannah’s favorite hike of the day.  While my mom waited below, Hannah led me on an off-shoot steep canyon hike.  We finally couldn’t make it up any higher in the skinny canyon, and the hike down was challenging, to say the least, in our flip flops.  I would highly recommend tennis shoes for such hikes, but it’s hard coming from Wisconsin in November, and not wearing flip flops in anything over 60 degrees!
Golden Canyon
  • Badwater Basin – This is the lowest elevation in North America at 282 ft. below sea level.  I’ve heard that the salt flat here changes in its appearance depending on the time of year, etc.  The salt was slippery, and Hannah decided to jump over a puddle, slipped, and fell into a pile of salty, dirty water.  Needless to say, our time at Badwater Basin was cut a little short. 
Badwater Basin
  • Artists PaletteThere is a one-way drive off of Badwater Road that passes by a place called the Artists Palette, which is aptly named.  It is incredible to see and we were so busy admiring the views and the colors (and driving), that we didn’t take any photos!  However, I linked to google images so you can see what I mean.  Also, it was fun to drive the tight, winding road knowing it was one-way.  And Hannah liked all of the crazy turns and ups and downs.
  • Zabriskie Point – This is a gorgeous overlook spot.  It’s about a ¼ mile walk up a paved path to the viewpoint.  It was the perfect way to end our day as we were all pretty tired and had probably done around 5-6 miles of hiking with all of our stops.  The view was gorgeous and a good reminder of how big this park is. 
Zabriskie Point

The Eyes of a Six Year Old

To pass the time throughout the day on the drive from point to point, Hannah kept a notebook of all the things we were doing and seeing.  She had written a page for each stop we made. One night, while I was writing this blog, she came over and handed me her notebook to help me remember each of the stops we made.  It was so amazing to read her notes and see “Deth Vally” through the eyes of a six year old.

Hannah’s notes from the drive in to Death Valley National Park

Lessons Learned

“There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand.  There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”  ~ Edward Abbey