We had just returned from a trip during the Thanksgiving weekend and my wife Neha was to leave to India a couple of days after Christmas. If I took a day off at work, I could muster a grand total of 5 vacation days. In my last post, I mentioned about how I had been meaning to visit the Death Valley National Park. This was the perfect timing to visit the park. December temperatures in DV range in the higher 60’s and lower 70’s. Yes, this would mean another long drive from the bay area and Neha wasn’t quite interested as she was more excited to shop for her India trip. UNTIL, I proposed that we go to Las Vegas also which was a couple of hours away from DV.
We drove around 6 hours on Friday and halted for the night at Ridgecrest, CA which was 2 hours away from DV. We planned to get up early in the morning and reach DV by around 10 AM which would give us almost 6 good hours to explore the park till sunset and do the same next day too. But, nothing went as planned. We started a little late and took the state highway leading to DV. After driving for an hour, we saw boards saying the road was closed. We should have checked the “Park Alerts” on nps.gov!!! We came back to Ridgecrest and took a detour which was a longer way to reach the valley. By the time we reached DV, it was around 3 PM. We were able to see the sand dunes and planned for the next day at the Visitors’ Center.
The desert and the terrain near Death Valley seem other-worldly. These are some of the pictures along the way:
We encountered coyotes along the way. We stopped on the side of the state highway and were clicking pictures of a coyote. When I turned around I realized that there was another coyote and these both were actually in some kind of attack formation slowly approaching the car from either side with alert eyes and ears. They would see each other in between time to time. I had rolled up my windows and drove 100 to 200 meters ahead. They followed us and were approaching us in the same fashion. Neha was getting a little nervous as they were getting closer to the car and we drove away.
The sun set at around 4:20 and we spent some time at the Furnace Creek Resort area. The plan was to wait till it was completely dark and travel back as we wanted to see the famous star decked sky from DV. At around 6:30, we stopped at Zabriskie Point to watch the sky. I have never seen the sky so beautifully decked with sparkling jewels. Its a shame that we city-dwellers don’t even know how beautiful the stars and sky can be. This was definitely a big attraction at Death Valley. If you visit DV, then plan to watch the sky from an un-lit place like Zabriskie Point or any other place that is not close to the Furnace Creek Resort or Inn.
The next day began very early at 6 AM for us. We wanted to watch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. We reached there by around 6:50 and saw the sunlight slowly filling the valley from here. There was a huge crowd that was waiting for the sunrise and of course lots of wannabe photographers like me.
We then drove all the 50 miles to Scotty’s castle. We walked around the castle for a little time, went to the Visitor’s Center and explored a bit. There were some tours that you can take, which are around $30 bucks per person and last an hour. We didn’t have that much time as we had only this day to explore the park.
We even thought that it wasn’t worth driving all the way from the Furnace Creek Visitors Center till here just for the castle. But, the Ubehebe Crater which is close to the castle makes up for it. This is the reason you should drive those 50 miles.
You can hike around the crater and some folks were even getting to the bed of the crater. We hiked a bit and headed to the Furnace Creek Resort for lunch. By the way, food in Death Valley is not that great and it is recommended you pack lots of water and food. Next in line was Dante’s View. This is a major major attraction here. The road took us all the way up a mountain from where we could see a huge portion of the Death Valley. It is a grand view and there is a short hike from the parking lot which is worth the time. At the end of this hike, you will be able to see a full stretch of the Death Valley.
We then did a short hike near Golden Canyon. We did another short hike at the Artiste’s Palette. The last stop of the day was Badwater. This is as lowest as it gets. 282 ft below sea level. There are some salt flats you can walk on. We saw the sunset from here and spent some time just walking around.
We exited the national park and headed to Las Vegas next. This is a big contrast for us. Going from a place that is uninhabitable with few people to a highly concentrated place the strip in Vegas. From a place where water is scarce to a place characterized by luxury and excess. We were just happy that we can get a good meal after 2 days of junk food. While in Vegas, apart from gambling and exploring some great restaurants like Mr. Mamas, Lotus of Siam, Saffron etc, we also were able to see Mystere, a show by Cirque du Soleil. It was good and the acrobatics were fabulous (of course).
We drove back 9 hours on the Christmas Eve back home and were home for a leisurely and relaxing Christmas.