As the time to leave towards Death Valley National Park arrived, our anxiety increased. Every time we checked the weather forecast, highs were getting higher… we knew it would be hot, but when predictions got at 129, 131, 133ºF (54, 55, 56ºC)… we started to worry! News were all about historical highs, and the 1913 record of 134ºF (56,7ºC) was expected to be exceeded.
We arrived at the end of the day, our first stop was at Dante’s View, a hill where we felt relatively cool (meaning 42ºC / 108ºF) and where we enjoyed a magnificent sunset.
Next stop, Furnace Creek, a real oasis in the desert, which saved many reckless pioneers who crossed the desert during the gold rush. There is a natural spring which feeds the ranch (where we stayed), the swimming pool and the golf course… when we left the car we felt as if we were entering an oven. Temperature was around 122ºF (50ºC), long after sunset. TV networks were there and everyone was betting on the record being surpassed (no, TV’s weren’t there because of us 🙂 ).
On the next day we woke up before dawn (at 5 am) to go to the main places to see:
- Zabriskie Point, from where we admired a beautiful sunrise over the valley
- Badwater Basin, 86 m (282 ft) below sea level, a vast salt flat where a lake may form after the rain (very rarely), and where we can find salty water below the surface (hence the name)
- Artist’s Drive, a scenic drive through bizarre and colourful geological forms
- Devil’s Golf Course, area of rock salt eroded by wind.
The landscape is surreal and strangely beautiful and surprisingly full of life: we saw coyotes, road-runners (bip bip!), frogs, insects… at around 8 am we were back to the ranch and on our way to the great swimming pool (with spring water at nice 86ºF / 30ºC). At 11am we were leaving the park and heading to the mountains with much cooler temperatures.
On our way we stopped at Stovepipe Wells, at a general store far west typical, where funny t-shirts with skeletons walking through the desert were sold… very appropriate! Impossible not to think of all the adventurous pioneers who crossed the valley in search for gold and fortune. Time seems to have stayed at those days, nothing seems to have changed much…
Much before the 133ºF (56ºC) were reached, we were leaving the National Park, and we felt relieved, we have to admit. On every stop we left the car for brief moments, the car air-con really felt good… the floor was so hot it burned, and the heat felt oppressive. Cell phones weren’t working (not even to take pictures, error messages said it was also too hot), and we saw extreme conditions car testing – we couldn’t see which brand, but it was a new model. All of this was a unique experience we won’t forget.
We totally understand all the warnings existing all over the park, this is definitely not a place to wander with no previous planning, the risks are huge, but it is certainly a place to visit, due to its singularity and unbelievable beauty. We will always remember our visit to Death Valley, that’s for sure!