The first thing that usually happens upon visiting Death Valley National Park is a sheer sense of disbelief at all the various types of land, rock, stone, mineral and material that are collaged, crammed together and juxtaposed for as far as the eye can see. After spending just a few hours in the park you become accustomed to mountaintops changing from chocolate brown to ashen slate to viridian green to subtle sandstone to earthen red. The multitude of hues is awe-inspiring. Finally, once the amazing colors become familiar, you start to notice the patchwork strata of the rock formations. Some masses stand upright and rigid with linear patterns while others roll like curvaceous boulders toppling across the land.
Amongst this unique and marvelous conference of miraculous geology, shaken from the core of the earth in various incarnations and forms sit even more distinct pockets that are essential for your visit as you aren’t likely to see anything quite like them anywhere else in the world.
Devil’s Golf Course
Named for its rugged and unforgiving terrain that only the devil would play golf on, Devil’s Golf Course is a fine example of the severe relationship between land and climate in Death Valley. The plain consists of jagged spires of rock salt, serrated into oblivion that rises and falls erratically, making it difficult to traverse. It’s fun to amble across but can be dangerous so make sure you only walk onto the fields if wearing sturdy shoes.
Father Crowley Vista
After a wonderful drive up through twisting mountain roads, Father Crowley’s Vista offers a stunning glance down into Rainbow Canyon. What’s so remarkable about this canyon is that it is a direct gash where lava once flowed and dark brown and red volcanic cinders are still visible in stripes along the slopes. Walk along the dirt track east of the parking lot for photo opportunities and comprehensive viewing.
Nearly 200 square miles of stark white salt flats line the bottommost point of Death Valley. At Badwater Basin you can walk out on top of a large patch of the flats that seem almost lunar in their vastness and desolation. The crunch under your feet is comprised of crystals constantly breaking and reforming along to the climatic changes in this harsh environment. The enclosed basin is considered the valley’s drainage system.
Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
In the early morning hours when the sun is just rustling up its force, venture onto the easy and mellow trail atop a wooden boardwalk that sits immersed at water and plant level alongside the Salt Creek. The rivulets that run off are calming to follow and in the late winter/early spring you may even be able to look down from the bridge and catch a glimpse of the pupfish that is one of the rare and brave life forms that calls this valley home.
Darwin Falls Algae Trail
Once you drive the long dirt road to the parking lot at Darwin Falls you will begin your flat walk to the back of the canyon. You will follow a creek that lengthens and shortens depending on the time of year and water flow. This creek leaves remarkable bursts of lime green algae and other gorgeous patterns and colors in the land that marks your entrance to this beautiful fold of lushness.
The Racetrack Playa
The notorious Racetrack Playa is a dry lakebed known for its mysterious moving rocks. Amongst the cracked, parched earth, you will find rocks sitting alone at the tail of trails of their own making in the mud. No one has actually seen them move and they remain one of the area’s greatest unanswered phenomena.
An odd little niche of eclectic botany is found along the roadside at Devil’s Cornfield. This stretch of land is full of arrow weed plants, which look like mini stalks of corn or stumpy haystacks.