TravelWest Coast USA

Day 8 – Zion National Park to Death Valley

However long your holiday whether it’s a week or a couple of months, you will likely need to make compromises where you’ll feel as if you haven’t given enough time to a particular place.  There’s no point worrying about it, just accept that it will happen and when it does you can mark that place down as a place to revisit at a later date.

So it feels today…

This is the longest single leg of our US Road Trip when we’re covering almost 350 miles in one day (tomorrow will be the second longest!).  If you want to drive the triangle that we are doing then there are bound to be a few long days and today we’re expecting to spend between 5-6 hours in the car and we’re keen to arrive in Death Valley before the evening to see some of the things we’ve planned there as well.  Driving America’s highways is easy in some respects as away from the cities they are not crowded and most of today we were driving at speeds of 70-75 mph.  But the trip is boring as there are endless stretches of straight roads connecting sets of hills.  It’s not a problem for me as I typically don’t get tired while driving but there is evidence along the way of people having left the highway at speed!  Beware.

Zion National Park

Today is the last day of Americas labour day weekend and we’re starting out with a drive through Zion National Park, it’s a place where we would have liked to spend more time but the traffic through the park is heavy and there is little in the way of free parking so we’ll need to leave this one to a later date.  Nevertheless, we do manage to take some spectacular photos as a reminder for that later date.

The main stretch of the journey takes us back towards Las Vegas, passing within around 10 miles of the City before heading out West and North as we begin our trek towards San Francisco.  Thinking through the trip agenda again, we could have flown into Phoenix and started our journey there and then used this as the opportunity to stop off in Vegas and break up the journey better.

Death Valley

Arriving at Death Valley in the middle of the afternoon it’s an amazing change of landscape (and temperature).  To put this place into terms that a lay person would understand is so difficult so I would say it like this:  If Hollywood wanted to make a movie about Mars if would be shot here (well actually lots of films have been shot here the most famous of which was the original 1977 Star Wars movie – parts of it at least).  But you get my drift, lots of rocks and sand and very little of anything else.  Death Valley gets very little rain mainly because it lies in a rainfall shadow of a number of w

est coast mountain ranges (meaning those other mountains get all the rain so that by the time the clouds arrive in DV they are empty!).  In fact, it rains less than 2 inches a year on average and often not at all.

It won’t surprise you that it’s also bloody hot.  In fact today we see temperatures of 113 degrees F which is 45 degrees centigrade in European money.  When there is a light breeze if feels like standing in front of a just opened oven door.

We head immediately to a few of the main attractions in the park.  Firstly there is Dante’s view which is a panoramic mountain viewpoint about 13 miles off the main highway giving uninterrupted (except for the haze) panorama across the whole of the valley floor.  The floor of the valley is eerily white, a kind of primordial salty crust that apparently is very dangerous as it is often just a thin layer (like ice) covering mud.  The road up to the viewpoint goes there and nowhere else so it’s a bit of a diversion but worthwhile.  In addition, it’s much cooler at the top (although these things are relative, it’s still hot).  You can see a short video of Dante’s View here.

Next up it’s just a short drive to Zabriskies point which after a short walk up a tarmac walkway provides some really great views across some interesting rocky landscapes.  The walk up may be short but in this heat, I am reaching for my brow mopping towel!

Zabriskie’s Point

Accommodation in Death Valley is fairly limited and if we had been staying in Vegas (see above) we might have actually just checked out the sights (which are all pretty close together) and passed right through but given the drive we’ve already had today it’s a sensible place to stop. We’re staying at the Oasis at Furnace Creek which, when we were there, was undergoing major construction and redevelopment. And it needs it as overall it feels pretty tired.  From what we see of the rest of the park it’s probably the best option for one night.

Artists Palette

Having checked into the hotel we then decide to head out again and see Artists Drive and Artists Palette.  They’re both slightly in the opposite direction to that which we’ll be traveling tomorrow so it makes sense to see them now.  Both of these sights are taking you past rock formations of contrasting colors caused by years of different chemical reactions.  The colors change as the sun hits them from different angles and while they are worth seeing (Artists drive takes you directly past Artists palette), if you are pushed for time you could give them a miss.  Oh, google maps seems a little out of date here as it says Artists Palette is a one-way road, that must have recently changed as it’s a now a one-way circular route making it much more convenient.

Cooling down

If you’re staying at the Oasis there are no other dining options than on site.  We had dinner at the Ranch which has a fairly limited menu, plus, given that there are few (no) options outside the park you may have to wait for a seat.  I ordered Dante’s pizza which rather perversely given how hot it is here comes with enough Jalapeno peppers to melt an iceberg, it’s also big enough for a family of four (Europeans that is).

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