Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Feeling the Heat in Death Valley National Park, California


          Furnace Creek Campground on this mid-May morning is all furnace and no creek.

         As the mercury climbs I drag my camp chair into the meager shade of my Toyota Venza, take a sip of coffee, and ponder today’s options.  Where to go when I have only one full day to tour Death Valley National Park?

         A walk from the campground to the adjacent Visitor Center is in order.  I hastily wash the breakfast dishes, then collapse my tent with everything in it and place rocks on top of the whole pile—high winds are forecast for today and I’m not keen to return to camp and find an empty campsite, my tent and its contents scattered across the desert.

My Furnace Creek Campsite.  You can see the frame of my collapsed tent
behind the picnic table.

         At the visitor center I study the park map.  Death Valley N.P. is immense; at 3.4 million acres it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states.  I formulate a plan to see as many highlights as I can. 
        A bout of lightheadedness and dizziness while in the visitor center—most likely the result of dehydration—convinces me to fill my water bottles and thermoses at the outdoor fountains, and to experience the park’s sprawling grandeur mostly from the comfort of my air-conditioned vehicle.  Today’s high temperature will reach 109°.

        First stop: Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet below sea level.  I’ll never stand atop the highest spot on the continent, 19,685 ft. Mt. Denali in Alaska, so might as well plant my feet in the lowest.  And it’s easy to do, as you can drive right up to the parking area, exit your car and walk a few hundred feet to the basin.  Mission accomplished! 

Here it is, the low point of our Western Hemisphere!

         From Badwater Basin I travel the park’s undulating roller coaster roadways, making stops at The Artist’s Palette, Natural Bridge, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, and Mesquite Springs.  During short hikes at each stop I guzzle more water and return to the comfort of my car.  I now understand why this is not high visitation season in Death Valley.  One upside: No crowds.

The dunes stretch for two miles and are fun to climb.
Few visitors brave the broiling sand today though.

Along The Artist's Palette scenic drive.

         Back at the campsite winds are raging and I notice a neighboring tent has blown into a clump of trees.  
        At dusk the winds subside and temperatures dip into the 90s.  I re-erect my tent and crawl inside. After gulping a pint of water, I aim a battery-operated fan at my head and drift off to sleep inside my 5’x7’ furnace within Furnace Creek.

Early morning is the time to photograph the shadows of Zabriskie Point.


  1. Beautiful photos, Rita!!

    You did a great job of setting the scene for this blog posting with your opening statement of “ Furnace Creek Campground on this mid-May morning is all furnace and no creek.” :-)

    Also, I like your “mission accomplished”. It was a perfectly logical quest to visit the lowest point in North America considering the unlikelihood of standing atop the highest point of the continent at Mt. Denali in Alaska. :-)


    1. I couldn't believe how hot it was on that day in May. Sleeping in my tent was like being in an oven, so yes, it was definitely all furnace and no creek!

      Thanks again John, for following and commenting on my blog. I appreciate it!

  2. Furnace Creek and Death Valley, if that doesn't sound scary enough! But I am sure you enjoyed that trip as always, and the last picture is truly wonderful Rita.

    1. I did enjoy the trip but the heat in Death Valley N.P. can be truly scary, Soumyendu. And life-threatening. If you go, take plenty of water!

      Zabriskie Point - scene of the last picture - is a stunning landscape and a photographer's dream.

      Thanks for your comments!