One of the National Parks that has surprised me the most was Death Valley. I expected it to be a vast valley with nothing but barren sand dunes for miles and miles. I didn’t give it much thought, but just figured that it was worthy of it’s National Park status due to the fact that it is deemed the hottest spot in the United States. And to be honest, the only reason that we gave it a day’s worth of our time was because we are on a mission to collect Jr. Ranger badges from every National Park that offers them!
Since the park covers 3 million acres of land, there is plenty of park to explore! We drove in through Death Valley Junction from Pahrump. We left with enough fuel to last the day, and that is one tip that I would highly recommend for anyone driving the park – it’s a big park! While there is fuel at Stovepipe Wells, it is about $1.50 more per gallon than if you just fill up before leaving wherever it is you’re leaving from…
There are actually quite a few accomodations if you would like to stay overnight in the park. And, there are also 12 campgrounds (some seasonal), from inexpensive NPS campgrounds without hookups (free to $12-18/night) to more pricey (up to $30-32/night) consessionare campgrounds that have 50 amp full hookups.
Our first stop in the park was at Furnace Creek. There is a visitor’s center there, and we stopped to pick up Jr. Ranger booklets. This is the view from the visitor’s center, looking towards the campground… In retrospect, I wish that we would have camped in the park – there are a lot of fun ranger-led programs that Death Valley offers, and while it didn’t work out that we got to attend any of them, the ones that I most wanted to go to were campfire talks offered on Sun. and Thurs. nights in the campground (not sure if the nights that they are located in the campground changes from week to week…) – there is a talk offered every night at 7 in various locations throughout the park, but I thought it would be most fun to walk from the rv right to the fire ring. We would have loved to have been able to attend some of the programs, most especially the ones on Tarantulas, Incredible Animals of the Desert, 1848 and Beyond, What Howls in the Night, or maybe Flintknapping or Stone Tool Making…
After talking with the rangers at Furnace Creek, we drove north and stopped at the little General Store in Stovepipe Wells where we found a great bumper sticker for the back of the toy hauler! 🙂 We collect bumper stickers from the places that we have visited, and decorate the back of our toy hauler with them.
We decided that one of the main attractions of Death Valley, Scotty’s Castle, was too far of a drive (besides, who wants to pay for a tour of a house, at least for 12 people, no matter how cool it is), so we drove back down the road a mile or two to stop at the sand dunes. There is a parking lot there for visitors, and you just wander out in the valley to the dunes – it’s just a little bitty walk.
We found all sorts of animal tracks in the sand, from kangaroo rats to lizards and birds. The kids took their shoes off and ran.for.hours.
After our time playing in the sand dunes, it was time to head back to Furnace Creek for the kids to turn in their completed Jr. Ranger booklets. Then, south out of Furnace Creek, our next stop was at the Devil’s Golf Course; this strange area of the valley where the uneven, coarse ground is covered with all these little mounds with holes all over them. It was quite unique.
Next it was on to Badwater Basin, which is a large area where the low lying ground is covered in a thick crust of salt!!! When visiting Badwater Basin, be sure to look up the hill behind he parking lot – way up there is a little sign that reads ‘Sea Level’! Areas of the park are over 300 feet BELOW sea level! But the most interesting part of Badwater Basin is that you can walk out on the flats – go out until you come to an area where it seems that no-one else has touched (walked on) the salt crystals, and you can break off pieces to try them. The kids thought that was pretty neat that they could eat the salt – so much so that I wondered if any of them would get salt poisoning.
Molly thought that eating the salt was so cool that after they all loaded back up in the van, I turned to ask her about it and found her licking the bottom of her shoe!!! LOL! (we took her shoes off to make sure she wouldn’t do it anymore! ewwww!)
I thought that Death Valley would be a bummer of a place to visit, but it ended up being pretty neat, the kids earned another badge for their vests, and we picked up a very cool bumper sticker for the back of the toy hauler. I would love to visit Death Valley again – and on another day much like the one that we were there – I don’t think that I’d like to go during the summer, when the temperatures sometimes top 130 degrees!