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Death Valley National Park (1994-), a Dark-Sky Park Spanning California and Nevada , and the Largest Continental National Park

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Thoughts on visiting Death Valley National Park (about a 5-hour drive from LA and 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas) from a recent conversation:


On the wildflower "Superbloom":

According to the NPS webpage, the wildflower season goes from early spring through the summer, moving from low to high elevation. Will it still be the "superbloom" [in March] or just have some nice flowers here and there, I have no idea. I would call the park ASAP before you make any plans and see what they think. I do know that the flower peak where I live in SoCal does not last more than a couple weeks, and the superbloom is already into at least week 1 or 2, but I live at a specific elevation, so there might still be a superbloom somewhere in the park when you want to come. The park has a nice report and a video here:

"Wildflower Update 2016" on nps.gov

and I found this nifty website that has a lot of info you would be interested in: 

"Death Valley NP - Wildflower Reports" on desertusa.com

Maybe contact those folks and see what they think about your proposed timeline? They also have some tips on where specifically to go for shooting flowers.


On where to stay:

Finally, if you do get to come out, and I hope you do, stay in the park if you possibly can. It's a HUGE park, the biggest by area in the continental US, I believe, and it takes forever to drive in and out. If you're coming for a short trip, it's worth it to stay at one of the places inside the park:

"Death Valley Lodging" on nps.gov

The only time I've been we camped, so I can't offer any insights about the specific lodgings. If you have a tent and are willing to fly with it, car camping was super easy, cheap, and I'd highly recommend it. Impressions wise, I think there are more places to stay coming in from the East (Vegas) side of the park rather than the West.


On being a Dark Sky Park:

If you can't sleep in the park, stay in the park at least one night as late as possible. As a Dark Sky Park, the nighttime sky view is one of the best in the country, even better than Joshua Tree!!!

We did one of the nighttime ranger talks which was mostly kid-oriented and a little cheesy, but it was fun looking out at the stars in a group for a while (before wandering off to do our own thing).


On the Star Wars tour (it was a shooting location for the originals):

Oh, by the way, in case you are a Star Wars fan:

"Star Wars in Death Valley" on panamintcity.com

I didn't find this site until we got home from our trip and we were so glad that we hit a few of the locations by accident.

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Oh and while there is some food available for sale inside this park at the restaurants and general/convenience stores, it is still in a visitor's best interest to stock up on drinks and snacks before you enter the park, since most of the attractions are far away from the resort/lodgings areas. The nearest supermarket is in Pahrump, NV.

Getting gas before you enter is also a good idea. Though gas is available at a few of the resort areas, it's more expensive and you'll be doing a lot of driving.

Actually, this whole list of Things To Know Before You Come is useful.

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For the hate-to-be-dusty, would-be campers:

While none of the National Park Service campgrounds have showers, two of the private campgrounds (Furnace Creek RV Resort and Panamint Springs) have some access. ALSO, you can pay for a pool/shower (a couple of coin-operated showers segregated for men and women) pass to the Furnace Creek Resort (I think it was something like $5/person), of which we took full advantage when we camped at the NPS Furnace Creek campground down the road. The pool is large and heated by a warm spring, so it was toasty even at Thanksgiving! Showers while camping are non-negotiable for our family (otherwise my husband wouldn't go!) - with a pool; shower; flush toilets at the campground; an air mattress; and a pile of charcuterie, bread, and good butter; our style of camping is luxurious enough for pretty much everybody.

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I suspect that the atmospheric river coming your way will result in another flush of blooms into April. We saw death Valley during a previous round of superbloom, it was impressive but not comparable to the annual flower wonderland found in the northern Rockies and Cascades. It's more interesting because it's an explosion of life in an otherwise lifeless place.

But Death Valley is a really cool place and well worth the drive from LA.

If you were to go, be sure to check out Antelope Valley poppy reserve on the way. Or just go to Antelope Valley by itself. The blooms are incredible there and that is an easy trip from LA.

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Been a couple of times.  Food options are really mediocre and limited, although we didn't try the most expensive resort place.  We stayed at Panamint Springs which wasn't bad, small clean rooms, food was okay and it has a bar and is much cheaper than the higher resort options

If you are up for it, the hike to the summit of Telescope Mountain is fantastic.  It's notable for being the one place you can see the highest and lowest points in the contiguous 48 from the same perch.  Corkscrew is a challenging but much easier summit

The drive down Titus Canyon is awesome. You don't need 4x4s but we had SUVs.  I think it good conditions you could do it in most anything.

We did rent Jeeps and go blasting around some of the 4x4 roads.  This is not technically challenging off-roading.  The Barker Ranch (Manson hideout) was a little spooky still.

Still haven't made it to the racetrack, probably never will.

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A big thank you to Sundae in the Park for all the tips she sent me. I had an airline credit to use so with little planning hopped on a plane for a solo trip to DVNP last week. A few random observations.

It's really hard to find a place to stay in the park itself - plan ahead if you can. If you can't, there are plenty of options in "nearby" Pahrump, NV. Nearby in quotes because it's a sold hour drive from there to Furnace Creek (more or less the heart of the park), which gets old fast. The Best Western was surprisingly clean, quiet, and comfy (I've had good luck with Best Western in the past).

There are a few all-night restaurants there, all but one as far as I could tell connected with casinos, which I abhor. The one was a Denny's. Let me tell you, when It's 3 am and you are jet-lagged and wide awake and have an hour's drive ahead of you and want to see the sun rise from Dante's View, Denny's is a fine choice.

El Jefe #1 was a fine choice for lunch the day I arrived and dinner the next day. Tex-Mex, not eye-opening but better then most places here in the DC area. Actually the pork carnitas tacos were great, the meat moist and crispy at the same time.

Another night I tried to get a carryout pizza from Nicco's. The guy on the phone explained that they were slammed and a pizza would take at least 45 minutes. I thanked him for his honesty and called Carmelo's. I was exhausted and starving and barely able to stay awake. I should've waited the 45 minutes. If one place is slammed on a Wednesday night and the other place has only two parties seated, that's what we call a clue.

I never ate at a park facility. They looked dreadful. I did provision myself with a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a roll of paper towels, and 5 one-liter bottles of water (which I refilled at the motel every morning). And some plastic cutlery. This worked well.

However, there is a Shoshone village right next to Furnace Creek, and at lunch one day they flew a "Welcome" banner advertising Indian tacos, fry bread, and Hawaiian shave ice. The fry bread was really delicious. Four bucks for a large piece, hot out of the fryer.

The park is huge. If your time is limited study a map and plan your excursions. I drove 250 to 300 miles each day (though 120 of those were from Pahrump and back) and only covered a small area.

The most interesting looking places can be accessed via gravel roads that you really ought to have high clearance 4WD for. I wasn't able to find any to rent but while there saw a number of Jeeps with the name Farrabee's on them.

If you're there for a specific purpose (like hunting wildflowers), stop at Furnace Creek Visitor's Center and chat with the staff. They have bulletins and updates and can make recommendations.

As an aside, if you need specific info about weather, sun and moon and so on, because, say, you want to try night-photography but aren't staying in the park, check out timeanddate.com. You can search on a specific place (like Furnace Creek, CA or Akureyi, Iceland) and find out sunrise and set, moonrise and set times for any date (for example, if you want to be in Akureyri for the summer solstice, you can check when sunrise is), as well as hour-by-hour forecasts. Really helpful and interesting, too.

Interestingly compared to many East Coast places, in Death Valley you're allowed to hike just about anywhere (not off the boardwalk at Salt Creek, though). The lit says that they're aren't many trails and you're free to go exploring. If you do this, be mindful of destroying crytogamic soils and other delicate features. And carry maps and a compass if you're going far from your car. And always more water then you think you'll need, even in March.

One other piece of advice, and I'm not kidding: carry some toilet paper with you. Because of the superbloom, I guess, there were enough visitors that sometimes the few and far apart pit toilets ran out of tp. It was really nice to just reach into my pack for some. And if you're hygienic-minded, some wet-wipes are handy, too. And pardon me for saying, but if you have to drop trou in the desert for the love of pete bury the waste and pack your paper out (bring a few ziplock baggies, too). It won't decompose in the arid environment. Stumbling on a pile of someone else's shit while looking for belly flowers was for sure the low point of the trip.

In another month or so I might get some pics up on my smugmug site. If you're interested in wildflowers, please visit my blog (links in sig line below). I've been blogging about DV for a few days now and have material for another month's worth of posts.

ps: When planning your trip, check the park website's "alerts" section. The same weather that brought the superbloom also caused major road damage, resulting in closures wit major detours.


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The park is huge.  If your time is limited study a map and plan your excursions.  I drove 250 to 300 miles each day (though 120 of those were from Pahrump and back) and only covered a small area.

This post makes the All-Star team.

I was last in Death Valley in 1970 - 45 years ago, which is also the last time I've been in Las Vegas (boy do I have some memories to share with you all - you just won't believe what it was like - you could walk everything *easily* (and I had just turned five), and I distinctly remember a penny slot machine in a convenience store - really, a *penny* slot machine. I also remember seeing a bank thermometer that was something like 123 degrees - it was definitely over 120).

Anyway, Death Valley is the lowest, hottest, and driest place in North America. It is 3,000 square miles - equivalent to a 55-by-55 mile swath of land. In the summer of 2001, there were 154 consecutive days when the temperature surpassed 100 degrees - its name is appropriate.

To add something to this wonderful thread:

"Millions of Wildflowers Take Over Death Valley in First 'Super Bloom' in Decade" by Chelsea Edwards on abc7chicago.com

porcupine, weren't you just in Iceland, seeing the Aurora Borealis? May I safely assume you have a bucket list? :) If so, you're certainly doing it right - exactly the way I would want to. Hat-tip.

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porcupine, weren't you just in Iceland, seeing the Aurora Borealis? May I safely assume you have a bucket list? :) If so, you're certainly doing it right - exactly the way I would want to. Hat-tip.

yes, kind of, except I wouldn't use the phrase "bucket list."  I'm going back to Death Valley next winter, this time with Mr. P and a rented high-clearance 4WD Jeep.  And we'll be back in Iceland for the summer solstice this year, twenty three and a half hours of daylight in Akureyri.  B)

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12 hours ago, Sundae in the Park said:

Heh, note that not all Southern California deserts are created equal, conditions in Death Valley were not optimal for creating a superbloom this year, and folks trekking there for flowers have been disappointed. If looking for this year's superbloom, see the thread on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I just got back from ABDSP.  :-)

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