I was incredibly fortunate to be able to visit Death Valley as a field course for geology. The coolest thing about visiting Death Valley with a bunch of geologists is that we were all into the rocks and what happened to make Death Valley look like it does today.
These are ten places not to miss in Death Valley.
1. Racetrack Playa
Racetrack Playa is home infamous for its sailing stones. The large stones would leave gouges in the mud cracks as they moved along the surface mysteriously.
A few years ago it was discovered that in the winter months when rain falls an accumulates on the Playa it freezes overnight. As the wind picks up, the ice drags the rocks along with them, leaving the trails in their wake.
The road out to the Playa is rather remote and cell service is nonexistent. Be sure to have enough gas in your vehicle and water to last the day. A vehicle with high clearance and four wheel drive is strongly recommended.
2. Scotty’s Castle
The castle is also known as Death Valley Ranch was built in the 1920s with an approximate cost of $1.5 to $2.5 million. The castle was named after gold prospector, Walter Scott. Scott was able to convince a Chicago millionaire, Albert Mussey, to fund the building of the castle advertising it as a gold mine. When the mine turned out the be fraudulent, Mussey was understandably upset. However due to the colorfulness of Scott’s character the two struck an unlikely friendship.
Unfortunately the castle is closed until 2019. Flooding washed out the road and some of the castle grounds infrastructures was damaged.
3. Devil’s Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course is easy to access off the main road from Furnace Creek. The dried salt from a lake on the floor of Death Valley is what makes the unique landscape.
4. Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at -282 feet below sea level.
There is a small pool of spring fed water surrounding the overlook deck. The surrounding salt in the area makes the water salty (obviously) and undrinkable. There is, however, animal and plant life living in the water.
Beyond the overlook deck, the salt flats extend out into the desert. You can walk for hundreds of feet if you choose to. Make sure to bring plenty of water with you regardless the season you visit the park. The lower below sea level, the hotter the temperature.
5. Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point is popular for its Badlands style erosional landscape. I thought it was really neat to see a Badlands landscape in a different part of the world from North and South Dakota.
6. Dante’s View
The road to Dante’s View takes you straight up to the top of a mountain at a height of 5,476 feet. From there you see a breathtaking, birds-eye view of the National Park. Be sure to look for the road at the bottom of the mountain. It’s amazing to see how small the cars are down below.
7. Harmony Borax Works
If you go to the store to buy a box of Borax, odds are the brand is 20 Mule Team. That is due to the actual 20 mule teams that would haul the borax mined at Harmony Borax Works along a six-day, 165 mile trail to where the trail would meet the team.
Now, you can see the wagons the mules would haul and the old buildings from the mining days.
8. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
I was really looking forward to seeing the sand dunes when we went to Death Valley. The Mesquite Flat Dunes are very easy to access off the main road. The tallest of the dunes reach about 100 feet into the sky.
One interesting fact about the dunes is they change location from year to year. My professors said that the last time they were there (about five years prior) the dunes were in an entirely different location.
The other famous sand dunes in the park are the Eureka Dunes.
9. Skidoo Gold Mine
Let me start by saying the road to the mine was terrifying. I would have been happy to wait outside the vehicle as the drivers turned the vehicles around as we left the mine. The road was that close to the cliff.
When you get to the mine, a barrier blocks the road and you have t hike around the corner and up to the rest of the mine. It was really interesting to walk around the piles of tailings and learn the geology behind why there was gold there.
10. Ubehebe Crater
Ubehebe (YOO-bee-HEE-bee) Crater is a large volcanic crater in the northern section of the park. The crater stretches about a half a mile across and anywhere from 500 to 800 feet deep. You can hike to the bottom if you choose to. I did not, it was way too far down for me. I heard from the other people that did hike down that the temperature went up substantially the farther down they went.
Geologically speaking, the crater is rather young. Some estimates place it at about 800 years old while others place the crater at around 5,000 years old.