On a mission to visit all eight of the National Parks in California in 2017, I started of with Death Valley National Park last weekend!
The park is located out in the Mojave Desert on the California – Nevada border just Northwest of Las Vegas by approximately 2 hours. I had driven Friday afternoon from Central California to the Trona Pinnacles and camped overnight before journeying the last leg of the drive on Highway 190 through Stovepipe Wells down to the valley. It was in the high 60’s, perfect for exploring!
Known as the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park, Death Valley National Park is desert land, but with some of the most amazing landscape views of beauty and desolation.
My first stop was at the Devils Golf Course (pictured above) and the picture doesn’t do it justice. Pictures from the above link from Atlas Obscura, definitely showcase the spiked mounds of salt from this dried up lake bed in much greater detail.
Next up was Badwater Basin the lowest point in North America, which was absolutely a mad house of tourists, but still pretty cool to stop for a quick check out.
Unfortunately Artists Drive was closed due to flooding, so I headed around to 20 Mule Team Canyon, which is one of the few dog friendly hiking spots within the park, and Cad and I were able to hop out for a bit of exploring together.
20 Mule Team Canyon is a narrow one way road that wraps through the Badland Hills. There are few places to stop or park a car, and if you’re looking to hike or explore, your best bet is to park your car off Highway 190 and make the trek in. Luckily for me, the park was incredibly slow in January and I was able to hop in and out of my car in several spots to do a bit of climbing and exploring as nobody was behind me on the route.
It was absolutely refreshing to not see another soul for miles and miles; a luxury you rarely find in California these days! Twenty Mule Canyon got its name from the crews that pulled the Borax out of this area in the late 1800s. The teams consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses, making a 20 animal team to pull the wagon. After a bit of scrambling, I headed back over to the Red Cathedral and Golden Canyon Trail for a sunset hike.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, the park is not Dog Friendly, which was why I chose to visit in January when the weather was on the colder side. Earlier in the day I had sought out the Red Cathedral, but it was just too hot outside to leave Caddy in the car, thus by 3:30 in the afternoon it was cool enough that I felt comfortable with leaving her in the car as the temperatures were about to start dropping.
Death Valley National Park is essentially one giant loop around the park with the majority of the excursions, hiking, and backpacking located within the center of the loop, so circling back to Golden Canyon Trail and the Red Cathedral was only about a 20 minute drive, and worth every minute!
Golden Canyon Trail is a 3 mile moderate level trail with a bit of an uphill climb towards the end. You can break the trail up , by heading over to the Red Cathedral, which honestly is just as magnificent of a view but without the added mileage. This was the perfect ending to the perfect day at the park. I had originally planned on a two day trip, but I felt that I’d easily covered most of what I’d set out to do in only a one day span, and it was much harder than I’d anticipated to have the dog in the car the whole time without a lot of exploring or trails that she could go on.
I’d definitely like to say that another trip to Death Valley National Park is in my future, perhaps as a backpacking trip next time and sans dog. But in just a short days time I’d managed to hike over 14 miles on short hike excursions, and explore all of the beauty that the desert had to offer.
This last picture was from the top of the Red Cathedral after being up for over 17 hours, driving 282 miles, and hiking 14 miles. Feeling strong, and accomplished, and like I’d put in a good days worth of wanderlusting. The perfect start to 2017 and a year of growth, soul searching, and exploration.