A Weekend in Death Valley: Exploring Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin & Artist's Palette
Although planning a trip to Death Valley National Park in June probably wasn't the wisest choice, we still ended up deciding to carve out a couple of days to visit the park during a recent stint to Las Vegas. Here is my guide on how to spend a gratifying, quality weekend in the hottest place on earth.
When To Visit
Spring is the most popular time to visit Death Valley, mainly due to the possibility of seeing spring wildflowers, especially in late March to early April. Autumn is also a popular time to visit the park, with days typically being warm, pleasant and sunny. Winter in Death Valley is also pleasant, with snow capping the highest peaks and pleasant temperatures. However, Summer usually comes early in the valley and temperatures begin to rise drastically into the triple digits by the end of May, so visitors are advised to take safety precautions during the hotter months.
Where To Stay
There are limited hotels actually located inside Death Valley National Park, but there are a few worth checking out depending on which location most interests you. The Inn at Death Valley and The Ranch at Death Valley are both relatively centrally located within the park and both offer a more luxurious experience. Located near the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is the Stovepipe Inn, and offers guests a welcoming rustic and western aesthetic.
Artist's Palette & Artist's Drive
Artist's Drive is one of the most unique places in Death Valley and features vibrant colors splashed over the mountains that line the 9 mile one way road, and we were ecstatic that we chose our first day to take this drive.
Artist’s Drive is located off Badwater Road, just south of Devil’s Golf Course and the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Our destination along the drive was Artist Palette, which is about 5 miles from the start of the drive.
Artist's Palette is quite a phenomenon and has become one of the park's most celebrated features. Variations of colors splatter the mountainside, which is created by the oxidation of metals and elements found in the soil. We spent about 15 minutes observing from the parking lot before deciding to take a trek closer to the mountain to get closer to the action. We spent a total of about an hour at this location admiring the beauty and taking photographs before heading towards our next destination.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Leading up to our trip to Death Valley, I was itching with anticipation to visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Trust me when I tell you, I was not let down. These magnificent dunes are definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Death Valley.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are located off the unpaved Sand Dunes Road and accessed from Highway 190. The dunes reach about 100 feet high and are impressive just from the parking lot, but I highly recommend taking a hike out onto the rippled dunes to truly experience the dunes up close.
We decided to start our day visiting the dunes and arrived about 30 minutes before sunrise. There are many advantages to visiting the dunes early in the morning, including beating the heat on hot summer days. Photographers are also encouraged to visit the dunes at sunrise not only for the impressive light and colors casted upon the silky, rippled dunes but to also avoid foot prints in the sand that might tarnish any good photograph. The dunes might also be visited at night, but visitors are advised to be cautious of rattlesnakes, especially during the summer months.
As we arrived to the parking lot, we noticed only one other vehicle and I exhaled a substantial sigh of relief and was even more anxious to get out in the sand. Upon arriving, we beelined straight to the tallest dune and were able to enjoy a peaceful sunrise that I will never forget.
I highly recommend insect repellant, as we got eaten up in just an hour's worth of time!
Hiking is not recommended any time after 10 a.m. during hot, summer months
Be aware of rattlesnakes, especially in the summer months
Sitting at 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. As a result, it is one of the most heavily trafficked locations in Death Valley. This is definitely an otherworldly and exciting experience!
Badwater Basin is a massive salt flat located about 30 minutes south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, and has quite an interesting history. According to the sign near the parking lot, a traveler was coming through the area and saw that there was water for his mule to drink. The mule refused to drink the water because of its immense amount of salt, and thus the name Badwater was born.
During rainy months, heavy rainstorms occasionally fill the basin with water and an extremely shallow lake is formed. The lake is quickly evaporated and leaves behind cracked, white salt flats for as far as the eye can see, resulting in a truly remarkable landscape.
After taking some time to read the information on the welcome signs, we made our way off of the platform and began the short hike out to the basin to conclude our short, but unforgettable weekend at Death Valley National Park.