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Trip 13, Park 3: Death Valley

Death Valley is an impressive national park. It is (1) the largest national park in the continental United States (lower 48); (2) the hottest place on earth with a recorded high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit; (3) the lowest elevation in North America (282 feet below sea level); and (4) the driest place in the country, with an average of about 2 inches of rain per year. We had two days in the park, although we spent one afternoon on the beautiful Furnace Creek golf course, playing our lowest round of golf ever (at least from an elevation standpoint!). The park offers lodging in Furnace Creek, which is an oasis in the valley, at The Ranch at Death Valley and the Inn at Death Valley. (Lodging is also available in the Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs areas of the park.) We stayed at The Ranch and found the accommodations quite adequate. There are also several dining establishments at Furnace Creek. The weather for our visit was pleasant, although early morning was cold until the sun rose above the mountains to hit the valley below.

We managed to fit in many of the must-see locations during our trip. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America and normally is a dry salt flat area; however, due to record-breaking rainfall from Hurricane Hilary in August 2023, Lake Manly, a remnant of a vast ancient saltwater lake, has reappeared in the basin, covering the salt flats. The lake's appearance happens only occasionally when there is significant rainfall (most recently in 2005, according to The Oasis at Death Valley); the water eventually evaporates, returning the valley floor to a dry salt bed. The water is only inches deep and the Panamint Mountains were reflected in them beautifully in the early morning light. The vastness of the lake can be seen in the lower middle picture, taken from Dante's View above the salt flats.

Among our hikes in Death Valley were the Natural Bridge Canyon Trail (upper middle picture), Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral (lower left picture), Zabriskie Point, Harmony Borax Works, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (lower right picture). We also drove through Artist's Drive to see the colorful Artist's Palette rocks, shown in the upper right picture.

Our only wildlife sighting in the park was this coyote walking on the sidewalk near one of the campgrounds. We also heard coyotes howling and yipping near the golf course while we played our round.

About a three-hour drive from Death Valley (or about an hour northeast of Las Vegas) is Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. We spent the day hiking here before heading to Las Vegas for the trip home. It is definitely worth the detour to see the beautifully colored red rock formations. The most highly recommended hikes are Fire Wave and Seven Wonders (which together form a loop trail) and the White Domes loop. We saw a flock of desert bighorn sheep (the ram along with several ewes) several times during our hikes. The hikes include several slot canyons and White Domes Loop goes through an old movie setting. The scenery in the area was truly impressive.

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