Hottest, Driest, Lowest and Most Extraordinary

October 23, 2008
Filed under Destinations

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Death Valley HikingKnown for its superlative extremes, Death Valley National Park, California, has an incredible landscape of alkali flats, alluvial fans, tawny sand dunes, mauve geological formations, original outdoor kilns and hundreds of species of indigenous flora and fauna. This is no doubt a special wintertime retreat for RVers. All in the same day within the park, visitors can throw snowballs on a snow-capped mountain, walk the cracked dry earth on the hot desert valley floor, and then immerse themselves in a warm spring at a natural oasis. Claiming to be the hottest and lowest place in the Western Hemisphere, the 3.3-million-acre park is the largest National Park in the continental United States. This desert has an unmatched beauty, and visitors from around the world claim that the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets can be seen from this extraordinary desert setting.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Death Valley, which sits about 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles, California, and 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, became a National Monument in 1933 under the authority of President Herbert Hoover; it was named a National Park in 1994. This protected desert ecosystem contains such enchanting sites as Gower Gulch Loop, Salt Creek Trail, Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Dante’s View, Zabriske Point and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Because temperatures here in the park can reach 120°F+, winter and early spring is the best time to experience this multi-hued environment. During the second week of November, the ’49ers Encampment draws thousands of participants to enjoy a variety of festivities, some charming, some silly, all fun.

Stove pipe Wells

Within the park, visitors will thrill to the natural and manmade wonders; among the latter are the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort, with its two hotels, 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, swimming pools and stables. Begun as a working ranch in the 1880s, the grounds of Furnace Creek are a lush and luxurious oasis in the desert today. Nearby, Scotty’s Castle will awe visitors with its opulent acreage. Built by Chicago millionaire, Albert Johnson, it was shared with Johnson’s close friend, one-time cowboy and hustler, “Death Valley Scotty.” Today, it is a museum well worth a visit.

RVers should take special heed to the travel notices within the park. Vehicles should be in good running condition; individuals should not wander off the official hiking trails, and they should carry sufficient water and sun protection. Fill fuel tanks in Pahrump or other nearby towns; prices are steep in the park. Plan on using a tow vehicle or dinghy to explore the park, due to long distances and adverse road conditions. Do not take anything from or leave anything on the desert floor. See below for information on campgrounds. For more information on the park, go to www.nps.gov/deva.

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