Death Valley may be as close as you get to visiting another planet. Its sculpted sand dunes, crusted salt flats, towering rocks, and polished marble canyons will make you consider your place in the universe.

Declared a national monument in 1933, then signed into national park status in 1994, Death Valley is the largest national park in the Lower 48 states. Located within the northern Mojave Desert, the park is named after the prominent valley within the region and boasts extremes of temperatures and elevation. One early travel advertisement promised “all the advantages of hell without the inconveniences.” From the oppressive glaring salt flats of Badwater Basin 282 feet below sea level to the snow line at Telescope Peak 11,043 feet above, a complex and varied geology spans eras of seas and volcanoes, tectonic forces, and fault lines.

Wander the ruins of Rhyolite, a once-flourishing town whose crumbling banks burst with gold. Photo © sumikophoto/123rf.

Wander the ruins of Rhyolite, a once-flourishing town whose crumbling banks burst with gold. Photo © sumikophoto/123rf.

One early travel advertisement promised “all the advantages of hell without the inconveniences.”Death Valley holds spectacular sights for all to see, but its secrets are not so easily given up. Dotting the landscape are hidden springs, mining camps and ghost towns, petroglyphs and the sacred spots of indigenous people who call the valley home. Decaying or preserved, battered by wind or watered by secret oases, these places stand as a testament to the frenzy of human hopes and the fury of imagination. Get out of the car to walk the twisting canyons, search for waterfalls or petroglyphs, and listen to the wild landscape.

This was and still is a place for dreamers—pyramid schemes and tall tales abound. Thousands came here to seek their fortunes. Some remain etched into popular history, while others have faded into local lore. Come to be awed and humbled, dazzled and pushed out of your comfort zone. You’ll wonder whether the searing heat and whipping cold are creating a mirage—or lifting the scales from your eyes.

Here are some great trip ideas to inspire your travels, whether you have only a few hours to a few days to a full week to discover Death Valley.

  • Two Hours: Drive Badwater Basin Road south from Furnace Creek to see iconic Death Valley sights: Badwater Basin, the Devil’s Golf Course, the Artist’s Drive, and Zabriskie Point.
  • One Day: Add a visit to the ghost town of Rhyolite, and take the scenic drive through Titus Canyon.
  • Two Days: Add a stop at the Mesquite Flat Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, then drive up to Scotty’s Castle.
  • Three Days: Make the adventurous trek out to The Racetrack; consider spending all three days dry camping in the Racetrack Valley.
  • Four Days: Attempt the rugged Saline Valley Road and spend four days camping in the Saline Valley. Alternatively, add a trip to the remote Eureka Dunes.
  • One Week: Base yourself in the Panamint Springs region and explore the Emigrant and Wildrose Canyons, hike Wildrose Peak and Telescope Peak, and backpack to Surprise Canyon and Panamint City.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Death Valley National Park.