We had two choices for routes to get to Vegas – the direct route by Big Pine and the 95, which is around 308 miles and 5 hours driving, or the 64 mile detour through Death Valley and Badwater.
Of course, we chose the detour. We couldn’t stay too long though, as we had a show to catch in Vegas that evening.
It was still early morning when we packed the car, made some sandwiches and left Mammoth Lakes.
Death Valley holds 3 USA records – hottest temperature in the US ever recorded for an egg-frying 57°C, lowest point and largest national park outside of Alaska.
A first glance around the park might leave you thinking there is no life here. But look closer and you will see all kinds of plants and animals, such as coyote, jackrabbits and kangaroo rates. Most of these are active in the night or early morning, so you’ll have to be around early or late to see them.
Father Crowley Outlook
The first stop on our detour was the Father Crowley Overlook, a short drive from the start of the national park. Here you get a great view over the rocky landscape and Rainbow Canyon, created by lava and coloured by volcanic cinders.
The view point was named after Father John Crowley, Padre of the desert. Father Jon was born in County Kerry, Ireland in 1891 and moved to serve the parish around Death Valley in 1919, which covered both the lowest spot in the United States, and the highest, Mount Whitney.
He was instrumental in bringing tourism and film makers to the valley to boost the local economy, after the water supply for the are was diverted to Los Angeles leaving the land sun-baked and local farms in ruin.
He also became the first priest to hike to the top of Mount Whitney and hold a mass up there in 1934.
It was already a hot day, and it was still before 10am. After a short walk around, we decided to continue along the road.
From here, the road twists and winds around canyons and rocky hills until you reach the small village of Panamint Springs. There are a few places to stay and camp here, as well as a restaurant and gas station.
We din’t stop, but continued out into the moon-like landscape.
There’s a few long, straight stretches of road here. So, Jamie decided it was time to test out how fast the Mustang could go from 0 to 60. He was rather disappointed by the 7 or 8 seconds it was taking, even after 5 or 6 attempts. Just as well we had the road to ourselves!
The next town was Stovepipe Wells, and we were both rather hungry after drag racing a computer. So we stopped for our picnic on some benches near the gift shop.
Stovepipe Wells was the original tourist resort of the 1920s, and still has a few shops, a motel and campground.
By now, the weather was really hotting up, and we couldn’t stay out for too long before we decided it was time to get back into the car and continue our drive. Not before stopping at the gift shop to buy a Christmas tree decoration though! That’s the one thing I like to collect and bring back from our travels if I can.
We passed the large town of Furnace Creek and headed towards the valley’s lowest point.
We stopped of briefly at the car park for the Golden Canyon trail and climbed out for a few photos. You can do the 2 mile trail around the Canyon, but in the midday sun a quick stop was all we needed.
We then continued south towards Badwater Basin, the lowest point of the United States at 85.5 metres below sea level.
The salt flat is essentially a pool of salt water that is constantly evaporating. You can walk out over the salty crust on a pier that leads out towards the middle without the danger of falling through the layer of not so solid ground into the mud below.
Despite the desolate landscape, the basin is home to a few plants and animals, including the badwater snail.
It was at this point we realised we had no water left. The temperatures were reaching 37, even in October and there’s no running water in Badwater. We had to drive the 17 miles back up to Furnace Creek before we resorted to Bear Grylls wee drinking desperation.
On to Vegas
From Furnace Creek it was another 2 hour or so drive into Las Vegas. So with time not on our side and a show to see at 7pm, we put our foot down and left Death Valley and it’s mysterious landscapes behind.
Top tips for tackling Death Valley
- Bring lots of water and make sure you top bottles up at each water stop.
- Pick up a map from any of the visitors centres, water stops are clearly marked on there, along with toilets. Don’t get caught in the hot sun with no water!
- If you’re coming in from the West, stop off at Furnace Creek as this is the last water point before Badwater and road out towards Vegas.
- The toilets at Badwater are seriously grim – a drop loo with no running water. When its hot, they absolutely stink. You might want to stop off at Furnace Creek as they have a lovely visitors centre with new, clean toilets.