Into the Heat of Death Valley
DELSEY PARIS and THE UNSEASONAL have teamed
up to take a fresh look at travel destinations that go beyond expectations.
Death Valley National Park in eastern California and western Nevada is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. It not only holds the record for the hottest temperature ever — 134 degrees Fahrenheit in July 1913 at Furnace Creek — it also is the driest place in the United States and the lowest point of North America.
Located in the northern Mojave Desert, Death Valley is still home to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe (formerly known as the Panamint Shoshone), who had inhabited the valley for about a millennium before the first Europeans arrived. The tribe’s ancestors had drawn petroglyphs, or rock art, in the area, and in 1964, the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons were declared a National Historic Landmark. Since 2014, the annual Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival honors the 10,000-year-old petroglyphs of the Coso Rock Art District with events hosted by the Maturango Museum, a Death Valley tourist center.
Among the festivities are an intertribal powwow, a street fair, and tours to the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons.
Attending a powwow is a unique way to experience Indigenous heritage and culture, and people of all cultures are welcome.
As part of the celebrations, Native Americans come together to share food, connect across generations, and honor traditions, while helping to educate future generations. Dancing and singing are traditional forms of prayer and embedded in a code of ethics and respect. These reunions are an important backbone of cultural exchange, and the performances showcase exquisite costumes. A group of lost gold miners in the winter of 1849 gave Death Valley its forbidding name.
In 1933, President Herbert Hoover established the area as a national monument in an effort to halt mining there. Spanning more than 140 years, Death Valley’s history of mining is intertwined with the California gold rush, and borax and talc were the most profitable minerals mined.
Billie Mine, an underground borax operation near Dante’s View, was the last mine to close in 2005. Today, numerous abandoned mine shafts, tunnels, and shacks can be found throughout Death Valley. In 1984, UNESCO included Death Valley as a principal feature of its Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve. Ten years later, Death Valley was designated a national park. In 2022, over 1 million people visited the park and its spectacular landscape diversity, featuring salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. When you visit Death Valley, make sure to fill up the tank and stock up on water. There are three main entrances to the area. The first is to come in from Highway 395 at Lone Pine. The second route goes in via I15 through Baker, Shoshone, and Death Valley Junction. Coming from Ridgecrest, take Panamint Valley Road. You’ll pass Ballarat Ghost Town on the way. Just east of Stovepipe Wells Village, off CA-190, you’ll find the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where parts of Star Wars (1977) were shot.
The dunes are named for the mesquite tree, which must twist and grow to avoid being buried under the sand. In spring, the trees blossom with yellow flowers. Mesquite bean pods are a traditional food of the Timbisha Shoshone. Passing by Furnace Creek Visitor Center, you’ll reach Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level. The basin is named for its “bad water,” which is undrinkable due to high salinity. But many organisms survive here, including the succulent pickleweed, aquatic insects, and an endemic snail.
The Devils Hole, a water-filled geothermal cavern, is the habitat for the only naturally occurring population of the Devils Hole Pupfish, the world’s rarest fish. The spring-fed oases are a groundwater system extending over 100 hundred miles. Thirty seeps and springs bring to the surface “fossil water,” which entered the groundwater system thousands of years ago. Devils Hole also is a window into our world’s seismic activity.
Large earthquakes as far away as Japan, Indonesia, and Chile have caused the water to splash as high as two meters up the walls. The Devils Hole Overlook Trail is among the most interesting hikes within Death Valley, allowing hikers to pass by the seemingly bottomless pits filled with ancient turquoise water.
The highlight of the Artists Drive Scenic Loop — one of the most scenic drives in Death Valley — is the Artists Palette. Throughout the loop are hills and canyons that have been carved into the rugged Black Mountains by the erosive power of water. Colorful minerals dye the otherwise beige landscape. The Artists Palette’s rainbow of colors is from volcanic deposits rich in compounds such as iron oxides and chlorite. The view of Badwater Basin and Panamint Range from Zabriskie Point is a particularly special experience at night, when the sun sets and fires up the rocks in orange light. The 1970 movie Zabriskie Point, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, made the place world famous. For stargazing, climb to the top of the 5,500-foot-tall Dante’s View; the vast skies of Death Valley have little light pollution, and the darkest times are at new moon and astronomical twilight.
Lodging in Death Valley can be found at Stovepipe Wells Village and in the Furnace Creek area, where The Inn provides first-class resort accommodations. Set against a hillside, the resort features casitas situated around a spring-fed pool among lush palm trees. The Ranch is a former working ranch that has been turned into a midcentury, 275-room hotel along Highway 190, next to the National Park Service Visitor Center. The Ranch offers horseback riding, carriage rides, and jeep rentals. Twenty-seven miles from Furnace Creek, the historic Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Amargosa is an especially unique accommodation. Resident artist Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows there from the late 1960s until her final show in February 2012. The opera house is part of the Death Valley Junction Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the opera house shows theatrical plays and musical performances every weekend from October through May. The hotel welcomes travelers year-round, and its 16 rooms don’t have TVs or phones, so guests can fully appreciate the unique solitude and silence of the spectacular desert surroundings of Death Valley.
Images: Ger Ger Words: Tina Ger
The Unseasonal is a purpose-driven special projects magazine and alternative take on the world – a magazine about passion, travel, beauty, the change in seasons, the unusual, and the human condition. It features timeless pictorials, thoughtful stories, and unique collaborations. The Unseasonal embodies the feeling of a getaway, of slowing down, of exotic places, optimism, breathtaking dreams, unique architecture, and a lightness of being, traced with elements
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