Instead of the usual family time for Thanksgiving this year, my wife and I decided to pack up and head down to Las Vegas where we could binge on huge buffets, avoid awkward conversations with that one weird uncle, and just laze around next to a swimming pool with some friends. Although I missed some aspects of the traditional Thanksgiving feast, sitting down to a buffet that significantly bigger than my entire house and eating half my body weight in shrimp cocktail and prime rib made up for it. The downside to this gluttony, however, meant that I was in no shape to do much physical activity for the next 24 hours.
That’s why a 3-hour road trip to Death Valley National Park sounded like such a good idea on Black Friday. Death Valley is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit and this was the closest I was going to get anytime soon. So we packed a light lunch, grabbed plenty of water, and hit the road. The plan was to get to the visitor center in time for a late lunch and then explore the park until it got dark.
Our first stop was Dante’s View, one of the highest points of the park that overlooked the lowest point of the park: Badwater Basin. The drive through the hills to get to Dante’s View was a great taste of what was to come later in the day as the serpentine road wound its way between cacti and Joshua trees. From the top of the peak, the view of Badwater Basin was breathtaking. We could see the largest national park in the continental US spread out for dozens of miles in front of us.
From Dante’s View, we headed north towards Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Zabriskie Point. While the latter was scenic, showing dozens of sandy dunes and hills, it was packed with tourists and we had far more fun chasing Jeeps through Twenty Mule Team Canyon instead. The narrow dirt road had tons of harrowing switchbacks as it snaked its way around the sandy hills. Although the Jeeps looked like they were having more fun on the twisty dirt road, our Toyota Rav4 rental made easy work of the somewhat bumpy terrain as well.
After looping back onto the main road, we headed up to the visitor center to pick up a few souvenirs before heading back south towards Badwater Basin since it’d looked incredible from our mountaintop vantage point earlier in the day. As we half expected, the basin, located an astounding 282 ft below sea level, was packed full of tourists but once we found parking and made out way out onto the salt flats, we were swept up in the stark beauty surrounding us. Although we had perfect 80*F sunny weather, I’m not so sure it would’ve been enjoyable in July when Death Valley is transformed into one of the hottest places on earth, with temperatures regularly above 115*F and sometimes exceeding 130*F.
It was starting to get late in the day and the sun was beginning to set so we hopped back in the car for our last leg of the trip, snaking through more canyons to visit Artist’s Palette, where bright turquoise stone break free from the red rocks surrounding it. With the sun setting in the background, it was definitely the most picturesque leg of the drive as the sky glowed orange before fading into magenta, purple, and eventually a deep, inky blue as we drove back to home base in Las Vegas.