Surviving the Death Valley [French Version here]
The Death Valley wasn’t at all what I expected it to be.
To tell the truth, I’ve never watched pictures of it or really looked into it further than I knew it existed and it was damn hot around it. I didn’t wan’t to know what I would see everywhere we would go. In particular the “famous” places.
I pictured the Death Valley as a long valley but that you could only see it from the edges of what I pictured as a canyon. I never thought you could actually go inside it. I thought you could drive along the edges, make some stops to have a look down. The only thing I was right about was the temperature. I knew it could approach 50°C in summer but I didn’t thought we would be inside it to feel that.
Crazy of me right?
In facts, the Death Valley is a valley but there are several roads inside it that you can drive into to see the different parts of the Valley.
We woke up before the sun, at 6AM, so we would see the sunset over the valley (again, I thought it was only one road on top of the valley). As we drove into the Death valley and as the sun rose, we could feel it was going to be a hot day and we only were in March!
All along the Death Valley, the road is stunning. Between the mountains and the valley, you don’t know where to look. Before entering the “real” Death Valley, we met another valley with one long straight road and nothing on the right, nothing on the left.
We started by the west side of the Valley so we encountered a few things before meeting the “Visitor Center” that clearly looks like an Oasis in the middle of a desert. Palm trees, water, restrooms…
We drove along incredible long straight roads and we saw the unexpected wild flowers of the Death Valley.
For those of you who wondered how a valley like that (and the area around Las Vegas) could exist, someone explained to us how. West of the Death Valley are seven chains of mountains that blocks the rain from falling in the valley. That is why it is so hot and dry there.
Stops we did:
— We also saw the wildflowers of the Death Valley but that was all around the valley
We started at 6:30AM from Lone Pine and we went out around 4PM by the exit indicated on the map.
We wanted to exit by the south entrance (when continuing down after the Devils golf course) but the road was closed so we had to turn around and go back on our feets.
I also wrote a list of tips to survive in the Death Valley.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
The first stop we made was to look at those sand dunes, standing in the middle of the valley. The weird thing is, how can so many sand dunes be there if there is no sea? I associate sand with sea or ocean because I live next to the English Channel and we have a lot of beaches covered in sand.
I know that in the Sahara desert it is also sand but even if I never went there, I know there is water on both sides. Here there is nothing, just a desert of rock.
Here, the sand comes from the erosion of the canyon around and they were shaped by the wind. This dunes are one of the few places where there is an amount of sand like that.
Salt Creek — The River.
Yes! You read correctly. There is a river inside de Death Valley. You will have to go on a not paved road to get to that point but it is totally worth the detour. You can walk along water and see fishes inside, butterflies, lizards and birds! I thought the Death Valley was only death and sand…! What a surprise.
To go near the river you will have to follow a wooden path in order to preserve the nature.
The Zabriskie Point is really easily accessible. We saw too many buses stop there. There is also a few hikes if you want to walk among this yellow mustard mountains. It was way too hot though so we didn’t go. It is really crazy how hot it can be in the Death Valley. We woke up very early but I still felt it wasn’t early enough for me to do the hikes here.
You can see the manly beacon from here (Picture above). What is stunning is the colors you can see. I had never seen that kind of yellow before. I guess it goes pretty well with the valley that offers many different colors. It is like everything is here and nothing is here at the same time.
Dantes View — Top view over the Valley.
This point of view is (with the artist drive) the best thing to see in the Death Valley.
You will drive up the tiniest road you’ve seen in the US until reaching the parking lot. Don’t take a RV there, I’m not sure you can go all the way up with it!
Once on top, we had the most beautiful view on the Death Valley. We could see everything for miles and miles.
This is where we discovered the Salt desert we were going to see after.
Sitting on top of the valley, this is what I thought what was the Death Valley. We were on the edges. When we watched far away, the landscapes were hidden by a white fog. I don’t know if it is because of the heat or because of pollution. I guess it is a little of both because when you see how many cars cross the valley and what is outside, it won’t surprise me if pollution had something to do here. More over, at the Grand Canyon the same phenomenon is happening and it is because of pollution there.
Devils Golf Course — Salt Desert.
The Salt Desert was the shortest though the hardest point of view to see.
It was really hard to not have sun glasses when looking at it with the white reflecting the light as it was snow.
Ok, we arrived there around 1PM so maybe we were looking for it but we got sun burns from staying only 10 to 15 minutes there! More over, we didn’t have any hats so we had to improvise.
We also didn’t thought we would need water for the short distance but we should have taken our water bottle with us.
This desert was impressive. It makes you think about how this valley happened. There should have been water here before or the salt couldn’t be there.
If you didn’t know before, the Death Valley level is under the sea level. At the salt desert, there is a little board on the mountain telling where the sea level is.
I didn’t do this one because it was way too hot for me. I am not surviving very well in the heat so if I need to hike while it’s 30°C outside and even more because it was 2PM… For sure I was going to die. Though, Alexis and Sebastian went.
The hike is one hour way and back, depending on where you are stopping. The story of this natural bridge is that is was made by the erosion of the water falling into the canyon that is around. When there are floods (the major part of the rain in the Death Valley is with floods), the water eroded a small canyon there. Then, the water infiltrated inside the ground and shaped the bridge.
The Artists Drive.
I totally understood why they called it that as soon as we took the road. It is a one way road so be careful which way you enter it! I advise you to go to the salt desert before and take the road after.
The Artist Drive is a road that (serpente) between small mountains. You can stop just before entering the drive and you could think you are on Mars or the Moon. Everything is reddish, rockish.
We saw colors I never thought could possibly exist in real life. I never suspected a rock to be turquoise (except for the cristals).
The Wild Flowers.
The Death Valley is known because nothing can grow there (because of the heat). Though, this year, the valley was covered by thousands and thousands of wild flowers (yellow, purple, white, orange…). There are forty different species growing in the Valley this winter and I even read that at the end of March, even cactus were blooming!
This phenomenon is really rare and happens once every twenty years or so. Usually, some flowers are blooming but never too much and never too long.
We discovered that seeds were dormant inside the ground of the valley. They are just waiting for the perfect time to grow. In facts, they grow only when the conditions are right for the flower to survive.
Of course they don’t survive very long because of the sun but the seed don’t die. It goes back to sleep in a certain way, waiting for winter to come again.
It happened this year after a huge storm that brought rain like it hadn’t rained in a long time. It rained ten times what it had been raining in the past five years. More over, the sun and the heat that followed helped the flowers to grow. One other thing happened that helped the flowers survive that long: the lack of wind.
I felt really lucky to be able to see that many flowers. For some parts of the valley, we could see the floor covered in yellow. It was like the death valley wasn’t dead after all.
I never expected the valley to be so green. I mean, I thought nothing could grow there, I thought it would be mostly sand or rocks. There were some parts like that, especially near the Salt desert where you drive for a while with nothing on both side but ground, but I was really surprised of how many small stuff were growing. Even if they were just “mauvaises herbes”. I am not talking about the wildflowers because those are not usually there, though it is incredible to think that there are seeds that learned to survive in this heat and know when the time is good to grow.
Tips for survival.
— Take gas before entering the Death Valley. There are one or two point with gas inside but it is crazy expensive.
— At least one gallon of water per person when you enter the Valley with bottles of one litter or more per person (You can’t bring one gallon on a walk dah!). PS: Buy it outside the Valley too of course…
— Always, always bring your bottle of water with you when you go out of your car. Always! Even for a 10 min walk.
— Bring a sun hat
— Bring sunglasses even if you don’t wear any the rest of the year. You will thank me in the salt desert!
— Sun screen
— Lipstick with a UV indicator (min 30). I had my lips burned for three weeks after…
— Check your car before entering. Especially is you go during summer. When you rent a car, tell them you are going into the Death Valley, some rental company discourage you from going with their car during summer
— Wake up early if you want to avoid the heat (especially in summer) or the tourists. Or go during winter.
— If you don’t want to pay a lot of money to sleep inside the valley, you can find campgrounds if you have a van like we did (rented from Escape Campervans for those who wondered) or a tent at 10$ or cheapest motels in Lone Pine on the west side. Though, to reach the “real valley”, you will have to drive about an hour. We saw some vans parked next to the road while we entered the valley so it’s free and you can while you have not reached the “Death Valley” board but you cannot once you are inside the valley.
— Check at the visitor center for more informations when you arrive. You never know what you can find!