SAND DUNES & A SALTWATER CREEK
From the mountains to the desert – today’s drive will see you working your way south from the town of MAMMOTH LAKES to the stark, inhospitable and utterly mesmerizing DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK. It’s a 135-mile drive to the park’s border, with little to detain you bar the change in scenery along the way; follow US 395 for 100 miles to Lone Pine, then turn left onto Highway 136 and Highway 190 E. Death Valley [open 24 hours a day | $30 per vehicle] is a land of superlatives and extremes. This is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, the driest region in America and the hottest place on Earth (the thermometer hit 56.7°C here in July 1913); a vast, hostile environment of parched salt flats and eroded canyons. It’s not without reason that the “Lost 49ers” who came through here during the Gold Rush christened the area’s landmarks with names like Dante’s View, Hell’s Gate, Coffin Peak and the Funeral Mountains.
Follow the road through Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells (45 miles from the park entrance) to the MESQUITE FLAT SAND DUNES, 100ft-high crescents that ripple away from a parking area just off Highway 190, two miles east of town. They’re a suitably surprising introduction to Death Valley. It’s around 10.5 miles further along the road from here (the last mile or so is along a gravel road that’s usually passable in a normal car), to SALT CREEK, a remnant of the immense lake that the valley used to be a part of. If you time your visit for late afternoon, when the intense heat of the day has faded, you can follow a wooden boardwalk through a wetland of salt marsh and pickleweed – a great spot for birdwatching at the end of the day.
TOP TIP Despite its extreme surroundings, you can still enjoy Death Valley in the summer, which is actually when most foreign tourists visit the park. You just need to take a few precautions. TEMPERATURES can peak above 49°C, so carry plenty of WATER in your car (at least 4l per person per day) and stick to exploring the park in the early mornings and late afternoons; even then, bar short walks such as the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and to lookouts at Dante’s View and the like, you’ll mostly be touring by car (note that rental companies won’t let you drive a motorhome through Death Valley during summer). Make sure your tyres are OK and that you have plenty of FUEL (only available within the park at Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek); MOBILE-PHONE COVERAGE is pretty much non-existent outside of the towns. Death Valley is surprisingly home to plenty of WILDLIFE; although you’re highly unlikely to see them, do be aware of rattlesnakes and scorpions lurking under rocks.
WHERE TO STAY
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