139 mi / 223 km
Harry Reid Int. (LAS)
Brave one of the world's most inhospitable regions on our 139-mile route through Death Valley. This is a land of sheer extremes, where the thermometers can read 130 degrees and rain is so scarce that months can roll by without a drop hitting the ground. Our drive wiggles through what's now the Death Valley National Park, stopping at wind-sculpted canyons and scorching spots with names like Furnace Creek.
Rainbow Canyon in the west is a mighty way to kick things off. Not only is it a breathtaking gorge carved out of the Santa Rosa Hills, but it was also a well-known training ground for F-16 fighter pilots. That is until the tragic Super Hornet crash of July 2019. Pilots now avoid the area to prevent a repeat low level flying crash.
Entering Death Valley itself, you'll be greeted first by the shifting dunes of the Mesquite Flats. Hemmed in by an arena of 1,000-foot peaks, it's sea of sand hills that seems to go on forever; more Arabia than America.
The route twists southwards from there, entering what's probably the most iconic sector of the national park. Feel the heat crank skywards as you roll into Furnace Creek. Back in the summer of 1913, the highest air temperature ever recorded was set at that spot – a suncream-boiling, egg-frying 134 F!
Those brave enough to get out of the air-conditioned car will want to stop at the Devil's Golf Course. It's all that remains of a dried-up lake from 10,000 years back, now a strange swathe of needle-like salt crystals that form bubbling mounds for as far as the eye can see.
In the early 1900s, Death Valley was a hotbed of adventure and deception. The notorious "Death Valley Scotty" was a well-known flamboyant character who spun wild tales. He had been described as a con man, ham actor, roughneck, pathological liar and all-round shady character. He used his story of owning a multi-million dollar gold mine in the valley to attract wealthy investors.
His charisma and charm were so persuasive that he convinced Chicago based investor Albert Johnson to build an extravagant mansion in the desert, a place known as Scotty's Castle. But here's the twist: Scotty's claims were nothing more than smoke and mirrors of course. There was no mine hidden in the valley, just a fabrication of his mind.
Despite the deception, Albert was initialy angry but then facinated by the colourful Scott and they striked up an unlikely friendship. Although Scotty's Castle was owned by Albert, he eventually faced financial troubles and turned it into a hotel. And when albert passed away, there was only one provision for the castle. That con man 'Walter Scott' could live there for as long as he wished.
As you press on further into the valley, you'll stumble upon Badwater Basin. This is the official lowest point in North America, stooping to 282 feet below sea level in a symphony of glowing saline deposits.
On the way back North, the vivid masterpiece of Artists Palette awaits. A mesmerizing geological formation that paints the desert landscape in a stunning array of vibrant colors. Vibrant hues of red, orange, and purple sweep across the rugged landscape, creating a surreal and awe-inspiring masterpiece that captures the imagination of all who witness its breathtaking beauty.
As you swing onto the second arm of the trip, prepare yourself for some of the best views and hikes of the entire journey. You'll hit Zabriskie Point and further on, Dante's View. At the end of the drive you'll be perched on the edge of a dramatic carved massif that's reached by a stunning road that skirts its eastern ridge.
Stand at the top and survey the whole of Death Valley as the sun sets across the Panamint Range to the west. The perfect spot to conclude this incredible drive through one of North America's most loved National Parks.
These options range from luxurious resorts with elegant rooms and amenities to more rustic and remote settings for camping or motel-style accommodations. It is recommended to book in advance as places fill up fast.All visitors must purchase an entrance pass at one of the many machines in the park or online at the National Park Service. Backcountry/Wilderness permits are required for some locations. For more information see the National Park Service website. The temperature can soar during the day and plummet at night. Be prepared with plenty of food and water.
Got a tip for this route? Send us yours!Roads along this trip are all sealed. View current alerts and warnings from the National Park Service.
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