My wife suggested an adventure that did not include ATVs. After a moment of trying to imagine that, I wisely accepted her invitation to visit Death Valley.
What little I knew about the place included heat, mules and borax. It was not on my top 500 places to visit — wait, 750 places to visit.
When I learned that there were accommodations in the park, we decided to enjoy the in-park experience. Two concessions feature hotel rooms; we chose those at Stove Pipe Wells. It was a little pricey so I tried to bring down the average price per night by staying in Mesquite on the way down and on the return trip.
The weather was good for traveling — about 45 degrees until we got to St. George. We enjoy traveling together; in fact we often disagree on which of us is the best traveling companion.
We stayed on the third floor of Building 7 at the Virgin River. That is the building where the UTV riders like to park because there is plenty of room for their trailers. I watched their activities with some envy from the balcony.
On our way the next morning, as we approached Las Vegas, we decided to drive the “Strip” from north to south. That was an adventure in and of itself.
The whole north end was under construction so lanes were restricted, meaning that I had to pay attention to my lanes. I didn’t and we had to go around the block to get realigned. That turn featured a sign pointing to the Mob Museum. I wondered what would be featured there.
We passed some less expensive motels as we traveled south with signs like “Elvis slept here,” “No alarm clocks, free ear plugs” and the one with the dancing Elvis. We passed flashy, one-of-a-kind Freemont Street and got into the wedding chapel district. We have some friends who actually got married here.
We continued south on the Strip where everything is just big! Leaving town, we traveled to Pahrump and entered Death Valley National Park on State Line Road. Stopping at Zabriskei Point, we took a short hike to a view point. I was beginning to see why the park gets 1.3 million visitors a year. The colors in this desert are amazing.
We took a short one-way dirt road through Twenty Mule Team Canyon near the point. It was a beautiful drive that brought us back out onto the main road.
It was too early to check in at Stove Pipe Wells, so we took Daylight Pass Road to Beatty just outside the park. A product of the gold rush, Beatty was founded in 1904 and has a population of 804. Despite its size, it is a respite in the desert.
We took time to drive the back streets of Beatty and were greeted by several wild burros wandering through town. I learned that these are descendants of prospectors’ burros that were let loose when the gold played out. They seem to be a problem to the natural wildlife that the park service is working to solve.
Here are some interesting things I learned about Death Valley:
It is the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. In July 2018, the average temperature was 108.1 degrees including overnight lows. Daytime highs reached 127 degrees for four days in a row. The lowest point is 282 feet below sea level — Stove Pipe Wells is at sea level. On our visit, we had rainy weather with temperatures in the 50s.
It is the largest national park in the lower 48 states.
It is an International Dark Sky Park with a gold tier rating, meaning that the night skies are free of light pollution. The night sky can be an unforgettable experience. I missed seeing what this was all about because it was cloudy for our stay.
Racetrack Playa is where rocks move on their own, leaving tracks across a dry lake bed.
Winding through Artists Drive you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and spot locations featured in the movie “Star Wars: A New Hope.”
Atop the sand dunes featured in the park, you can hear the singing sand. When the sand slides down the steep faces of high dunes, a sound like the bass note of a pipe organ or the distant drone of an airplane can be heard.
When you go, take plenty of water, keep rubber side down and take your time — there is a lot to see.