Louise Speaks: Death Valley National Park is an attraction Patricia does mention in her book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”. Like I had said in the Pahrump, Nevada post, I have a high school classmate that lives in Pahrump. Since we don’t tow a car behind the RV, she offered to be our tour guide and show us the most well known attraction to Pahrump and that is Death Valley. I had my list of things to see from Patricia’s book and she knew them all. We got up bright and early and were on the road about 7:00 A.M.
Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California. It is one of the hottest places in the world at the height of summertime along with deserts in Africa and the Middle East. Death Valley holds the record for the highest recorded air temperature in the world, at 134 °F on July 10, 1913. I’m sure that’s how Death Valley got it’s name. Death Valley’s is also the point of the lowest elevation in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. This point is 84.6 miles east -southeast of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet. So the highest and the lowest points in the United States are less that 85 miles apart.
Death Valley is 60 miles from Pahrump. Death Valley is known for the acres and acres of flowers that cover the desert floor. We missed the full bloom by about two weeks but we were still able to see color for miles off in the distance. I’m sure in the cooler months of spring, this place must just be a floor of color. With our stops for pictures of flowers and mountains it was a good two hours before we reached the entrance to Death Valley.
Our first stop was Zabriskie Point. This stop had a view of wrinkled hills and perfectly sculpted Safari sand hill dunes .Zabriskie Point offers a stunning panorama of the badlands near Furnace Creek. The overlook stands at the upper east end of a badlands terrain full of impressive canyons and gulches. A short walk up a paved hill is all that is required to take advantage of this amazing vantage point. The views from Zabriskie Point are impressive in every direction. This should be considered a must-stop on any first trip to Death Valley. The best time to visit is the early morning when the light is best. Zabriskie Point is just a short drive from Furnace Creek and an easy stop en route to Dante’s view, which was our next stop.
Dante’s View is a viewpoint terrace at 5,476 ft elevation on the north side of Coffin Peak, along the crest of the Black Mountains , overlooking Death Valley. Dante’s View is about 16 miles south of Furnace Creek . From the Dante’s View parking lot, visitors can take several paths, one of which leads to the very brink of the edge, offering a dramatic panoramic view. Another path leads north 350 yards to a rest area with picnic tables. The best time to visit Dante’s View is in the cooler morning hours, when the sun is in the east. There’s a reason Dante’s View is the primary overlook in Death Valley National Park. The spot offers premier panoramic views. Below Dante’s View is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Across the valley rises Telescope Peak, the highest spot in the park. Under the morning light, the views are breathtaking in every direction, and it feels like cheating to be able to drive right up to such amazing views.
From Dante’s View we were off to Artists Palette, where mineral deposits have turned the sand to red, pink, orange, purple, yellow and green. Now being from Arizona where we have the painted desert, this was not much to see. However, someone who has not been to the Painted Desert would have found this to be just beautiful. To get to Artists Palette, you take the Artist’s Drive loop which is a one-way road traveling from south to north. The 9-mile drive climbs above Badwater Road for an impressive perspective on the salt flat below. Turnouts allow visitors to get out of their cars and have a look around. The first major turnoff provides a short uphill walk to an impressive overlook with wide views of the basin below.
Being that we had our own private tour guide she took us to places not in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”. One stop was Rhyolite, NV. Rhyolite is a ghost town in Death Valley. It is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, near the eastern edge of Death
Valley. What’s confusing is that Death Valley is actually in California, but Rhyolite is in Death Valley, but in Nevada. The town of Rhyolite began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region’s biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite’s population dropped well below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to zero. After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty. In Rhyolite the railway depot has been repaired.
Also in Rhyolite there is a Bottle House made chiefly of empty bottles that has also been preserved. As the sun hits the bottles, the colors just glisten. The house was started in September of 1905 and was finished just 5 1/2 months later in February of 1906. Tom Kelly was 76 years old when he built the house. Mr. Kelly used almost 30,000 bottles before he completed his house, he did not wash the bottles before he used them. People had to buy water in those days for up to $5.00 a barrel. Everyone laughed and had a grand time as they brought their old bottles here for Mr. Kelly to build with, and of course, he retrieved most of them from the saloons in town. At the time there were over 53 saloons in Rhyolite so bottles were easy to come by. Mr. Kelly never lived in the house. He raffled it off and everyone was buying tickets. They only cost $5.00 and you might just get a nice three room house to live in. Mr. Kelly plastered the interior of the home, so you could wallpaper or paint. You wouldn’t even know that you lived in a bottle house when you were inside. The Bennet family won the drawing and lived in the Bottle House until 1914. In 1925 Paramount Studios made a movie in Rhyolite, using the Bottle House. The town was pretty well deserted by then and a few repairs were needed on the old house. The Movie was called, “The Airmail” starring Billy Dove and Douglas Fairbanks. It is believed that they are the ones responsible for the patchwork of bottles in the back of the house.
As you are leaving Rhyolite you come upon the Goldwell Open Air Museum. A spectacular ghost town off the road leading to Death Valley, a group of prominent Belgian artists, led by the late Albert Szukalski, created a self-described art situation consisting of seven outdoor sculptures that are colossal not only in their scale, but in their placement within the vast upper Mojave desert. Goldwell exists because artists from afar chose the Mojave Desert as a place to make work freely, in contrast with their practice in Europe. Those experiences led several of them to create the large scale, on-site sculptures that define Goldwell as a destination. There are few other places where such art-making activities could have taken place; the desert is integral to their work. This is a most interesting museum as the art work is outside on the grounds. There are blank ghosts cloaks sculptures which you can go inside the cloak so that you become the ghost. There are other items outdoors as well and it is free to explore the grounds on your own.
From Rhyolite driving back through Death Valley another stop was to see the Twenty-mule teams. These teams were teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons that ferried borax out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889. They traveled from mines across the Mohave Desert to the nearest railroad spur, 165 miles away in Mojave. The wagons were among the largest ever pulled by draft animals, designed to carry 10 short tons of borax ore at a time. The rear wheels measured seven feet high, with tires made of one-inch-thick iron. The wagon beds measured 16 feet long and were 6 feet deep ; constructed of solid oak. They weighed 7,800 pounds empty and when loaded with ore, the total weight of the mule train was 73,200 pounds.
We spent the whole day here and we still had a two hour drive back. We weren’t rushed but we probably could have still spent more time here. The thought of visiting Death Valley, the hottest place in the world, doesn’t really sound that exciting, but once you stop and visit these viewpoints the thoughts definitely change. It was a great day and sites we saw you could never see anywhere else. That being said, Death Valley gets an A rating. There is no other place like this on earth.