Discover Death Valley California on a Day Trip

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When a friend of mine suggested a day trip to Death Valley California, I agreed mainly out of curiosity. I had no idea what to expect other than desert landscapes and high temperatures. Much to my surprise and delight, there was a lot more to see than rattlesnakes and cacti, and I’m actually looking forward to a longer return visit.


Death Valley National Park California
Death Valley National Park California

Artist’s Drive

My visit to Death Valley started out with the incredible Artist’s Drive. This is a one way, paved loop drive that stretches for nine miles, and during our slow tour, I took dozens of photographs. There are incredible color variations in the volcanic and sedimentary rocks you’ll view along the drive. From the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle, you’ll find this ride almost surreal.

We stopped at Artist’s Palette near the end of the drive to do some exploring and take photographs. The various colors in the soil of the rolling hills here are spectacular. We spent nearly half an hour discerning and trying to describe the scenic view. Green, pink, tan and blue are some of the colors you’ll have trouble believing you’re seeing as you gaze at the landscape here.


The Borax Museum

Despite bringing along and consuming large quantities of cold water during our Artist’s Drive trip, I was ready for an indoors attraction afterwards. We visited the nearby Borax Museum next. Although this is a small museum, it is worth touring. Normally, you may not consider the level of air-conditioning a criteria by which to rate museums, but you will on your visit to Borax Museum. You can tour the exhibits here in utterly cool comfort, and there is no admissions fee.

There are several interesting exhibits at the Borax Museum. The geological exhibit answered many of my questions about the unique rocks and soil I’d just seen along Artist’s Drive. There are also some very interesting artifacts on display from Death Valley’s mining era.

Furnace Creek

After cooling off at the Borax Museum, we had lunch at Wrangler’s in Furnace Creek. The food here was fine, but “all you can eat” seemed a bit out of place. Sizzling temperatures don’t do much to incite my appetite. I was surprised at the amenities available at Furnace Creek. A gas station, a golf course, and a souvenir-packed gift shop and store make Death Valley seem slightly less remote.

Golden Canyon

We headed out to explore some more scenic areas in Death Valley after our interlude at Furnace Creek. Not long after leaving town, we stopped for a “hike” at Golden Canyon. We started what was little more than a slow stroll along the trail at the end of a parking lot, and ended up in the center of a remarkable old canyon.

There are actually several canyons in this area rather than just one, and we took our time exploring a few of the side canyons in addition to the main one. Based on his former experiences, my friend had insisted I wear hiking boots instead of sandals on our trip. The loose rock and steep canyon walls would have been a real challenge to hike along otherwise, and I never would have reached the heights we did in flip flops.

Hiking at Golden Canyon is hot and tiring, but if you take your time and drink plenty of water along the way, you will be rewarded when you reach the ridges of the canyons. The view of Death Valley is simply stunning from atop these incredibly steep, narrow canyon walls, and it’s virtually impossible to take a poor photograph here.

If you continue along the main trail at Golden Canyon, you will eventually end up at the Red Cathedral walls. This is the perfect place to stop and take a lengthy break in the shade, which will be an incredibly welcome sight. While you rest, you can admire and photograph the beautiful coloration of the cliffs here.

yWe spent more than two hours hiking and exploring Golden Canyon, and by then it was mid-afternoon. Although I was anxious to see more of Death Valley, we had an hour drive home, and I was completely exhausted. The ceaseless sun and heat combined with the incredibly dry landscape takes its toll after a few hours if like me, you aren’t used to the desert.

A day trip is a great introduction to Death Valley, but I now realize one day is not nearly enough time to explore its many attractions. Not only are there a variety of natural attractions, there are also man-made attractions in Death Valley such as Scotty’s Castle. If you only have a limited amount of time, you can get a feel for Death Valley on a short excursion. At the end of the day, regardless of how hot and tired and dusty you feel, you’ll be eager for your next trip to explore more of Death Valley’s exciting and exhilarating attractions.



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