Winter “Opens” the Doors to the Sites of Death Valley
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Holding the title of “Hottest Place on Earth,” the famous Death Valley still maintains the world record of having the highest temperature of 134°F ever recorded (taken at Furnace Creek on July 10th, 1913). Despite the fact that summer temperatures on average top 120°F in the shade, with overnight lows dipping only into the 90s, Death Valley remains a location that many people wish to witness with their own eyes because of its odd beauty. A frightening adventure, to say the least, but now, dear people, is the time to head out to take a look for yourself.
When winter winds and blowing snow are making people shake and shiver, Death Valley offers mild daytime temps in the low elevations. Not so worried about flash floods or wicked thunderstorms passing through this time of year, the “norm” you and yours get to experience are sunny days with the occasional winter storm in higher elevations.
Some of the coolest sites to see, however, rest in Death Valley and appear on a myriad of “Must See” lists. First, make sure not to miss out on the fantastic ‘ghost towns’ that await you in the desert. One, by the name of Frisco, is a genuinely eerie location, with abandoned buildings falling to ruin. Here, you can walk into one of those Old West saloons to see owls roosting on the bar.
Panamint City is also a choice, taking you back to the gold strikes of 1897. Just west of Death Valley, home to 2,000 people at one time, the mine here produced 15,000 tons of gold ore to the lucky inhabitants from 1898-1903. Still known as the “toughest, most hard-boiled little hellhole” that ever passed for a “civilized” town, this is not surprising, seeing that the original founders were outlaws who, while escaping lawmen, stumbled upon silver in Surprise Canyon and decided that crime was no longer their future career. The ruins of Panamint were added to Death Valley National Park in October of 1994.
And for those who wish to step back in time to a “royal” location, take a gander at Rhyolite, AKA the “Queen City,” which was the largest town in the Death Valley area with a population of approximately 10,000 people. The town contains a number of ruins that you’ll love, from the Bottle House and Senator W.A. Clark’s train depot to the bank building and the jail.
Whether you have just a few hours or can take some time to really enjoy all that Death Valley National Park has to offer, make sure to take in the beauty that awaits around every corner. Badwater Basin is one area where off-trail hiking is permitted. Usually taking 1-2 hours, this trail is a trek worth taking, especially as the sun sets and the desert becomes bathed in violet and orange hues. Being the lowest elevation in North America (-282 feet below sea level), Badwater is almost otherworldly in its appearance – a salt flat that is a unique experience allowing you to view the polygon salt formations that the Valley is famous for.
If wishing to take a scenic drive, the “Artists Drive” that runs forty-five minutes to an hour is a great pick. The name it has been given truly fits, seeing as that the one-way road looks like a geologic rainbow running through eroded, colorful desert hills. You can even stop at “Artists Palette” along the way, take a short walk, and see the most amazing vistas North America provides.
One other definite “must-see” in Death Valley is the Devil’s Golf Course. The harsh seasons, strong winds, and torrential rains created this huge area of rock salt that’s been eroded into jagged spires sticking up from the ground. So serrated, in fact, that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.” If you remain quiet, you will hear popping and pinging sounds that are, quite literally, billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart while expanding and contracting under the bright sun and the heat that blankets the area.
Viewpoints you will see, from the Golden Canyon to the Red Cathedral, are most popular at sunrise and sunset and will be burned into your memory for all time, as you become awestruck by a world created when the earth and skies combined.
So, now that the winter season has come head to Death Valley and marvel at this one-of-a-kind world!
Death Valley National Park is open, with some facility closures in place, as the National Park Service works with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. Most park roads, trailheads, and overlooks are open, with campgrounds temporarily closed until further notice. The Furnace Creek features outdoor pass sales and information provided daily; bookstore items are available for purchase, and the Visitor’s Center is open.
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