Death Valley…not only is it an awesome National Park to explore, but did you know they have an annual hiking challenge? I passed by Death Valley many times on the way to other locations, but this time we actually made it as our destination to visit and hike. There was a long drive from one trail head to another due to the vastness of this park. However, we saw the lowest point in Northern America at Badwater, found a Natural Arch, saw the Mesquite Sand Dunes, and hiked though some narrows made out of marble!
This was our family trip in November of 2016. Today in February, it’s raining and hike trails are closed so I finally get to write about our trip that day. The pictures bring back great memories! We finished the hiking challenge same day and was rewarded with a neat bumper sticker I proudly display on my car. I hope to return sometime this year to complete their hiking challenge for 2017. I wouldn’t dare attempt to go now with the rain, but also can’t go in the summer when it’s hot, but maybe I might go see the wildflowers and pupfish soon. The Death Valley Visitor’s Center, Furnace Creek is located here. For the 2017 hiking challenge information, please see the information on their site here. Their hiking challenge is based on a point system so there’s a list of hikes to do, and depending on its difficulty one can accumulate points. I love this system because one can make it as easy or difficult as one prefers. We brought along our kids, so we chose easier hikes to explore. Personally I found this to be an easier hiking challenge to finish compared to the Anza Borrego’s hiking challenge as one can finish in one visit (if well planned out). However, the hiking challenge only highlights a few things to explore in the park. There is so much to see! Obtain 4 points, show your selfie photos to the ranger, and get a limited edition sticker. Fun times!
Our adventure began at 3am in the morning. I didn’t get much sleep because I was so excited! We loaded our sleepy kids in the car and hoped they would sleep most of the way there. Surprisingly they didn’t. They were just as excited seeing the different landscape and lights along the way. We arrived at Baker around 7AM. Boy, was it good to see a town in the middle of nowhere, and good food! We saw the “World’s Tallest Thermometer” (see picture below..sorry dark exposure because the sun was barely rising) and enjoyed breakfast at the Mad Greek. It was very cold…the thermometer indicated 43 degrees. Luckily we were prepared and dressed warmly.
I was so hungry, I had a whole gyro, pistachio baklava, and coffee for breakfast. Everyone filled up and they had so much to choose from (pastries included), so we ate and were ready for more driving.
Heading north from Baker to Death Valley took far longer than I anticipated. I think it felt like a long time because even though we were officially in Death Valley, we had to drive through miles and miles of desert before we could see the visitor’s center or any of the sites we wanted to visit. Plus there was absolutely no reception in the area and no fellow travelers, so as much as I do enjoy solitude from time to time, I was just hoping we’d get there safely!
So one can imagine the excitement when we arrived at the Badwater Salt Flat, the lowest point in the North America! This was considered an easy hike at about 1 mile to and back. However to go to the other side, one can go much further…about 5 miles according to the ranger. Before I had the chance to explain things to the kids, they took off running down the wooden pathway and beyond to what they thought was ice/snow but it was actually salt flats.
It definitely was crunchy beneath our feet and super neat to see. Apparently Badwater was aptly named not because it was toxic, but just super salty. But what was most interesting was this is the lowest point in North America. The white sign in my photo below is so tiny I had to add text next to the “Sea Level” sign so that one can see from a distance what the words said. We were 282 ft below sea level walking around on these salt flats. The salt path went down for as far as the eye could see. We walked 0.5 mile in before the kids got tired and we turned around. Pretty neat!
Off we went to the Natural Bridge, which was another easy 1 mile hike. There was a bit of unpaved road we had to drive through to get to trail head, so we traveled very slowly and had ourselves a bumpy adventure. It was absolutely beautiful everywhere we looked.
This trail was fairly easy and very scenic. Rocks, cairns, and dry waterfalls were a few highlights.
Pretty soon we approached the natural bridge (see below). It was gorgeous! I still wonder how nature in all its majesty formed this, along with all the dry waterfalls. We took some time to enjoy the views and take family photos. This trail was very popular with tourists and many were also taking group photos.
We went a little past the Natural Bridge and saw a giant dry waterfall (see below). Another breath taking view! I got closer and stood beneath it to take it all in. I felt like a little ant next to this tall structure. It was a very humbling and beautiful experience.
We drove to the visitor’s center next. The friendly rangers were great at providing information and there was a wonderful exhibit area. We promised the kids we’d be back for that later. The kids each got a Junior Ranger pamphlet (which they started filling out right away), and I got more information on the hikes in the hiking challenge. The center closes at 430PM so we would need to plan to make it back in time to turn everything in.
After that, we drove awhile west towards Stovepipe Wells Village. I should mention there is a nice souvenir store, gas station, and even a motel there. We drove so far, we were so relieved there was a gas station on the other side. We saw the road to Scotty’s Castle, (which I really wanted to see), but both the road and the Castle are closed until 2019. I guess that’s another reason to go back again! We arrived at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, which is another easy hike, approximately 2 miles roundtrip. However, I did not finish this hike as it was getting hot and I did not want to go too far. The kids and hubby all bailed on me on this one…so I didn’t want to take too long.
We were off to our last hike, the Mosaic Canyon. This was considered a moderate hike at approximately 4 miles roundtrip. There was another bumpy unpaved road that we traveled on to get to the trailhead but it was all worth it. I absolutely loved this hike and the narrows at 0.5 miles was the highlight of my day.
One can see the different stones in this canyon…and then it transforms into narrows with marble/Dolomite. The kids loved climbing the lower ridges and exploring all the different rocks. But it was also very slippery so we didn’t let them climb too high.
Some areas were more narrow than others, but it was so gorgeous. I was mostly sightseeing rather than hiking. We hiked past the narrows and a little further but I guess we were there longer than I thought because we were starting to lose sunlight. We had to make it back to the Visitor’s center by 4:30, so we left, satisfied by everything we saw.
At the Visitor’s center, the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, recited their oaths, and took pictures with the Ranger. They also got to go through each exhibit and learn more about everything that they saw. We barely made it back to the Center on time but we felt accomplished. We then began the long trek back home. Before we left, I was most inspired by this sign…
There is so much still to explore so I’m sure we will be back soon at Death Valley another time. Thanks for reading and following us through our journey!