Sunday, April 20, 2014

A variety of landscapes at Death Valley

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park










Nicolas had seen pictures of Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley National Park in a magazine, and he was determined to do some hiking there.

So, in hopes of getting there before the temperatures got too high, we initially bypassed Las Vegas and made our way to Pahrump, NV, where we found a really nice Passport Park which was an easy 1-hour drive to Death Valley.     Approaching Death Valley

As we got closer to the park, we transitioned from desert to the Funeral Mountains that line the eastern edge of the valley.




The first landscape we encountered in the park was the Badlands.

Contrasting colors

More color










This area is full of amazing colors and is incredibly beautiful!

The Badlands area of Death Valley


We stopped at Zabriskie Point to enjoy the view of the badlands.

Valley in the Badlands

Interesting formations of rock

Don't fall!

The views from the top of Zabriskie Point were breathtaking, and we were careful to stay away from the edge!








At Zimbalski Point

Death Valley










There are so many hiking options in Death Valley, and so many areas to see . . . we had a full day ahead of us! 

Dropping in elevation

We were really lucky that it was a cooler day, starting out in the low 70s as we descended to the valley floor.

We reached sea level

 49th Gateway

 This monument was dedicated to the 49ers . . . gold miners travelling to California in search of their fortune.  They decided to take a shortcut through Death valley, and many never made it . . . hence the name, Death Valley.

This is the Furnace Creek area of the park (seems like an appropriate name), where there are several resorts and campgrounds . . . I think I heard somebody say that they are only open October through May.



I think I know why . . . here it was, April 5th, and a “cooler day” relative to the rest of the week!

It's hot below sea level!

We stopped in the Visitor Center to purchase our new annual national park pass, and to find out which areas of the park we needed to make sure we saw.  Nicolas had a couple of hikes that he wanted to try, and the Ranger recommended a few other areas, too.  Of the two hikes Nicolas had selected, Gold Canyon and Mosaic Canyon, the Ranger recommended Mosaic Canyon if we only had time for one of them.

Mosaic Canyon is just north of the Stovepipe Wells Resort area of the park, and on the way we could visit two of the Ranger’s other recommendations, so we headed that way.

The area around Furnace Creek was a major borax mining operation in the late 1800s.  Steam engines like “Old Dinah” were used to haul the borax out of the mountains.          DSC_0316











Leaving Furnace Creek, we witnessed the desolation of Death Valley . . . this is what I had expected all of it to look like!

Driving through the desolate valley

Tucked into the base of the Panamint Mountains on the west side of Death Valley is Salt Creek, the only water source in Death Valley.

Salt Creek - hardly looks like Death Valley

Salt Creek











PupfishSalt Creek is home to Death Valley’s own unique species of fish – pupfish, although Bryce thought they just looked like little minnows!

We walked on the boardwalk that followed Salt Creek through the desert, and on the way back to the car, spotted this little lizard.  There is life in Death Valley!

Lizard on the boardwalk

Our next stop was Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. 

Sand Dunes

They appeared out of nowhere, stretching across the valley, from one mountain range to the other, 2 miles across. 

Walking on the sand dunes


Nicolas and Bryce walked out a little way, but didn’t make the hike all the way to the tallest peak – it was only 100 ft. tall anyway, nothing like the sand dunes in Michigan!







or even Silver Lake!

This is nothing like Sleeping Bear!

At the Sand Dunes

From the sand dunes, we continued on to Stovepipe Wells, where we ate our lunch before continuing on to Mosaic Canyon.

The Mosaic Canyon Trail was listed as being anywhere between 1/2 mile and 2 miles, depending on how far into the canyon you walk. 

Entering Mosaic Canyon

Nicolas is ready for a hike


Nicolas, of course, was ready to hike the entire 2 miles!





The first part of the trail took us through the narrowest part of the canyon – with smooth marble walls on both sides of us!



Marble walls of Mosaic Canyon


Smooth, cool marble



There were a few areas where we needed a little boost!

Helping Tom up the slippery marble!


Marble Walls

Why walk on the ground when you can walk on the walls??!!

Trying some rock climbing

I can see why this hike is so popular . . . the canyon walls seemed to change color in every direction you looked – it was beautiful!

Colorful Canyon Walls

And there was always something for the guys to climb on!

Carefully climbing down!


Always up for a challenge!

Nick is enjoying the hike!


Everyone was happy . . . they had rocks and walls and cliffs that they could climb on, and they knew that I was safely on solid ground next to them!

More climbing

As the canyon opened up in front of us,

Following the canyon

there were a number of routes that we could follow . . . along the floor of the canyon, closer to the wall where we’d get some occasional shade, or right up on top of the canyon wall.

Choosing a route

Tom and I opted to stay low, but close to the wall where we’d get some protection from the sun . . . and of course the boys took the high road!

They take the higher route

Definitely the higher route!

They said in some areas the trail was narrow, but in other areas it was as wide as a road . . . but it was windy up there!  Bryce decided to come down after a while, but Nicolas kept going – he said that the view was awesome!

Bryce comes down, but Nick keeps going!

We continued on, and eventually the canyon walls started coming back together.

The canyon is narrowing

Bryce directing Nick down


Nicolas ran out of trail up top, and had to come back down and rejoin us!  Bryce helped him find a good spot to land!









The canyon was beautiful,


Mosaic Canyon











and although it wasn’t steep, it was a constant uphill climb, so after about a mile Tom and I were getting a little tired, and were halfway through our water supply (the universal hiking signal to turn around!).


They are going to find the end of the trail


Of course, the other two weren’t tired, so we gave them 40 minutes to try to reach the end of the trail . . . if they hadn’t found it by then, we told them to turn around.  They continued on, and Tom and I made our way leisurely back down the trail.  We talked to several people along the way, and most of them had family members further out on the trail, too, so we knew they weren’t alone.





We were in the shade for most of our hike down, so it was actually really pleasant!  We took our time and eventually sat in the shade on the cool marble to wait for them.          DSC_0437

We didn’t have to wait long for them to catch up to us!

They found us!

They were pretty sure they found the end of the trail . . . they got to a wall that looked like a dry waterfall, with no way up, so they assumed that was the end!

As we exited the canyon, the view of the valley below was breath-taking!

Looking out at the Valley

I’m glad Nicolas chose this hike!

But we weren’t done yet . . .

We passed Furnace Creek and continued south on Badwater Rd. until we reached the Badwater Salt Flats,

Badwater Basin


at 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest, driest, hottest spot in North America.

Badwater Salt Flats - the lowest point in North America



There’s a “trail” out there . . . you can walk for 2 miles on the salt . . . not sure why you would want to!  We took a look, and a few pictures, and moved on.



We were all getting a little tired, and were ready to head back to the hot tub at the RV Park, so we passed up hiking in Gold Canyon, and just take the scenic route through Artists’ Drive on the way out of the park.



We were glad we took this little side trip, because it was beautiful!

So much color!

Scenic Drive











The twisty, turny, narrow road wound it’s way around, over, and between the rocks!

Narrow, twisty road

9 miles of breath-taking beauty!














Before we came here, we really had no idea of what to expect from Death Valley – I know I just pictured an unending expanse of desert!  We found out that it’s so much more than that . . . desert, yes, but also beautiful, colorful mountains and canyons . . . sand dunes . . . and even a creek! 

All of it was absolutely beautiful, and we were all glad we took the time to discover what Death Valley had to offer!


  1. One of our favorite places was the Badlands, but we never had the chance to see Death Valley. It is beautiful and will definitely be on our "ToDo" list. Hard to believe somewhere that hot and dry could be that beautiful!!! Your photos were wonderful:o))

  2. Great Pictures of someplace we hope to visit some day.
    Another fun trip as a family.
    By the way Happy Easter to you all.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  3. How funny. We spent the night in Death Valley on the 17th. We did the Gold Canyon hike and not the Mosaic. Love your pictures.

  4. Thanks for this wonderful post. We're headed that way but didn't give Death Valley much thought, we may be changing our minds and tweek the plans a little to see it.

    The kids are so grown up. Amazing how fast that happened. lol
    Safe travels

  5. Hi Marci, love your pics...keep writing Grampa and Me enjoy keeping in touch. Sorry of your fall. Be more careful. Happy Easter! We love you guys...


Thanks for reading! We'd love to hear your comments!