The Amargosa Range rides the eastern boundary of Death Valley National Park, from the California-Nevada border south to the Amargosa River in the southeastern corner of the park.Spring is the peak season to visit—daytime temperatures are pleasantly warm and nighttime temperatures are moderate.The Grapevine, Funeral, and Black Mountains roll down into alluvial fans as the valley trends north in a wash of salt-crusted desert floor the length of the park. At its most extreme, the valley sinks below sea level, generating hot winds that lick at the mountain slopes. Shimmering heat and the unrelenting blue sky inspire wonder at the resourcefulness of the indigenous people who called this area home. How did pioneers cross this expanse with their lives intact?
The park hub of Furnace Creek provides a good introduction for first-time visitors and includes many of the park’s highlights: Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, and Artist’s Drive. Wander among alien salt formations, red canyons, pioneer camps, or muted mineral tones with the mountains as canvas.
Like the chaotic geography that makes Death Valley famous, this area bucks easy categorization. Heading away from the magnetic pull of the valley’s center reveals pristine sand dunes, bubbling oases, and forgotten mines.
Planning Your Time
Furnace Creek is the park hub, an outpost of comfort and civilization with a visitors center, accommodations, campgrounds, restaurants, and even gas. This is the only area of the park where you will regularly encounter crowds, but even here, solitude is easy to achieve.
The two main, paved roads in the park—Highway 190 and the Badwater Basin Road—intersect at Furnace Creek. A drive here is a pretty straightforward experience if you plan to stay on paved roads and see the popular destinations within an easy day-trip from Furnace Creek. Most visitors concentrate their time on the sights along Badwater Road, touring the highlights in an afternoon; adding a hike can turn the trip into a full day.
Set aside two days to travel the length of the road, visit all the sights, and complete several hikes. Exploring some of the more rugged hikes and drives accessed from the graded, dirt West Side Road can add an additional day or two. To visit the southeastern section of the park with its cluster of natural and historic sights, allow an extra day.
When to Go
Furnace Creek Village lies 190 feet below sea level, making it an inferno in summer with temperatures soaring to well over 100°F and dropping by as much as 40 degrees at night. The heat and wind of the valley floor are omnipresent. Certain times of the day and year are lovely, but prepare for extreme fluctuations in temperature and oppressive heat from mid-May to the beginning of October. Most services remain open in summer, but the Furnace Creek Inn closes for the season, and business hours may fluctuate in off-season. Hiking is strongly discouraged at lower elevations during summer.
Spring is the peak season to visit—daytime temperatures are pleasantly warm and nighttime temperatures are moderate. Seasonal businesses are open, and there may even be wildflowers during wetter years. Fall has equally lovely temperatures and is generally less crowded. Winter can be a great time to visit the lower elevations around Furnace Creek. There are fewer crowds, and skies are often clear. However, some park roads may be closed due to snow.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Death Valley National Park.