Death Valley 2-Day Excursion
I love Las Vegas! I love everything about it: the glitz, the glitter,
There are many great side trips from Vegas but, without a doubt, a two-day
circuit through Death Valley is one of the most unforgettable. If your
idea of Death Valley is one of a vast nothingness baking in the shimmering
heat, then you are in for a big surprise. Death Valley does hold the record
as the hottest place in the United States, and it is the lowest point
in the Western Hemisphere; but, it is also a place where it often snows
and there are some very high peaks.
Contrary to the dire sounding name, Death Valley is a thriving ecosystem that is home to more than 900 species of plants, a wide variety of wildlife and many unique, natural and man-made wonders. It is a place that exemplifies the quintessence of America's frontier spirit of survival. Set aside your preconceptions, open your mind to the subtle beauty inherent in desert terrain and prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure.
The first leg of the trip traverses the southern portion of Red Rock
During the first 50 miles, notice the contrast between Las Vegas and
Be on the lookout for wild burros. They are descendants of those that got away from early pioneers. Because they do well in a desert habitat, the burros carved out aniche in Death Valley. The Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 protects them; however, they compete with the bighorns and other native species, foul water sources, overgraze and trample the undergrowth. To protect the fragile desert ecosystem, the Bureau of Land Management controls the population by capturing some and offering them for adoption.
The Mojave Yucca, easily identifiable by it's starburst of two-foot long
This stretch of road could be termed "The Way of Lost Hope and Forgotten Dreams," for it roughly follows the Old Spanish Trail forged by Spanish explorers in 1830. A decade later it was an important route between Mormon settlements in Utah and California.
The '49ers used this trail as a winter route to the gold fields in
The cottonwoods, juniper trees and pinyon pines in Mountain Spring Pass were evidence to the early travelers that here was a source of water. The white, powdery film on the juniper berries is the yeast that is essential in the making of sourdough bread, a staple of the early miners. The nuts of the pinyon pines were an important food source for Native Americans.
Eighteen miles later turn west toward Tecopa; about 5 miles down the road, make the turn for Cathedral Canyon. A short distance down this side road is one-man's way of coping with his young daughter's untimely death.
Rolland Wiley spent more than $1 million turning this mud wash into one of Death Valley's more incongruous sites. Dedicated to peace and harmony among all of God's creatures, the half-mile meandering canyon is decorated with famous quotes, stained glass, waterfalls, pictures, benches and statuary. In the quiet of the desert, one can feel the depth of his loss.
Wiley died in 1994, so the area is in dire need of refurbishing.
About 15 miles past the California border, the highway crosses the Nopah Mountains at Emigrant Pass. Park the car, walk about 300 yards to the ridge and look back at the valley to see the ruts carved into the floor of the desert by hundreds of pioneer wagons more than 150 years ago. By the time the pioneers had reached this point, their initial enthusiasm had waned; many questioned the wisdom of the adventure, others prayed to just survive.
Another 10 miles down the road, take the turnoff to discover anotherone of the desert's little secrets. China Ranch is a working family farm set in a lush piece of greenery amidst the forbidding Mojave Desert -- a classic desert fantasy. The Old Spanish Trail is within easy walking distance, as is the historic Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad.
Visitors can hike to nearby old mines, or take an interpretive guided nature walk (make reservations at 760 852 4415). You'll learn about geology, botany, birds, early man in the area, the Old Spanish Trail and much more. The ranch's gift shop sells a variety of items including packaged dates, date shakes, date-nut bread, jams, post cards and unique hand crafted gifts. This detour takes between 45 minutes and two hours.
Back out on the main road, it quickly merges into Route 127; continue
Back on the highway, two miles down the road, turn left onto Highway
178; 5 miles later you will officially be in Death Valley National Park.
A few miles later, the road dips below sea level for the rest of the
Park the car and walk out onto the salt flats. A photo at the sign
Even here plants such as the Desert Holly and Pickleweed thrive. Badwater never dries out completely, and even manages to support a unique species of fish - the Death Valley Pupfish, a small bluish, creature that has evolved to survive in the hot saline conditions.
About 20 miles from Badwater, at Furnace Creek Inn and Resort (760 786 2345), there are three options for over-nighting: the recentlyrenovated up-scale inn, the family orientated ranch situated around a 16-hole golf course or the campground nearby something for every price class.
Now the evening fun begins! There are several options, and it is best
Make sure to squeeze in a visit to the Borax Museum. It is pictorial
Just beyond Zabriskie Point, take the 5-mile, one-way loop through 20 Mule Canyon. The road is named for the teams of mules that once pulled wagons loaded with borax from mines on the valley floor. Dormant shafts give evidence of the mining activity that once abounded in the area.
Further up Route 190, turn off for Dante's Peak, a high summit on the
Continue east on Route 190 toward Death Valley Junction, a ghost town setting right out of a 1950s western. However, this ghost town comes alive on Monday and Saturday evenings during the winter when the Amargosa Opera House offers visitors a musical performance by renowned ballet star Marta Becket. It is another one of those incredible desert incongruities. In 1967, Marta Becket, a classical dancer, stopped here to fix a flat tire and left with a dream. She leased the rundown theater for $45 a month, renamed it the Amargosa Opera House, and with her husband began fixing it up. Her first show drew 12 customers; on some evenings, that first year, nobody at all came. So Becket painted an audience on the walls and kept on performing. Try to time your visit with a performance (reservations are necessary. 760 852 4441).
From here, head back toward Route 160, Pahrump and Las Vegas filled with a new vision of Death Valley and deserts in general. Death Valley National Park, established in 1994, comprises 3,000 square miles (over 3.3 million acres) of widely differing topography, and is now the largest national park in the coterminous United States.
"Death Valley" was the term the first emigrants used after
The hottest day on record in the United States was recorded at Furnace
Death Valley is not a name anyone in the tourist business would pick;
but some tourists leave Death Valley disappointed if they have not experienced
temperatures of 120° or higher! You will arrive back in Las Vegas
with your appetite whetted for more desert adventures.
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