Dec 26, 2007

Death Valley, the Forgotten Park

The day after my wedding, Cristin, I and our respective wedding parties, took a day trip to Death Valley National Park. This was December 15th. We had also visited the park on Jan 1st of the same year. Both times the weather was quite comfortable 65-76 degree range. It is quite pleasant in the winter, supposedly the record high was 88 for December.

Death Valley is a place of extremes:

  1. The highest temperature in the US of 134 degrees was recorded here.

  2. A ground temperature of 201 degrees was recorded here (remember, water boils as 212).

  3. Its basin is the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. See my photo of GPS above showing it's altitude estimate of -293.

  4. Visible from the lowest point, the highest point tops out at 11,049 feet above sea level. There was snow on this peak when I was there.

  5. Largest park in continental US: 3.4 million acres, 5 times the size of Yosemite.

  6. The darkest night sky of any national park in the United States.

In this sense it is (in my humble opinion) one of the most unique locations in the world, definitely in the United States. Yet, both times I've been there, it didn't seem popular. The small parking lots at the most accessible, touristy, spots in the park were nowhere near full even mid-day. People appeared absent. This was starkly contrasted to my trip to Yosemite 2 months earlier where everywhere in the park, people were swarming, parking was impossible to find, etc. Hence, I'm dubbing Death Valley the "Forgotten Park" from my small sample size. I only have theories why this might be true, no answers:
  • It has a reputation for being uncomfortable, hot and dry. This is certainly true in the summer.

  • The closest large city is Las Vegas, which is 2-3 hours away and has other nearby attractions such as the Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire, and the biggest tourist attraction of them all the Grand Canyon.

  • It isn't "scenic" in the sense of large mountains and colorful vegetation. Basically, the vegetation is sorely lacking

Why do you think Death Valley is "Forgotten"? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

1 comment:

mike said...

I went to Death Valley in June 1992. It was hot and almost completely empty. I saw less than 20 different cars all day in the park.

We then drove north and through the Tioga pass into the back side of Yosemite. In two - three hours you go from very hot desert to snow covered mountains. This side of Yosemite is very quiet, maybe 10 times as busy as Death Valley. It's also closed all winter.

When we got down into Yosemite valley it was like driving into a large city. There were thousands of cars and buses. There was a campground that must be the most dense campground (smallest spaces) that I have ever seen. And there were lines to stand at the Kodak picture spot to take of picture of you smiling in front of half dome.

Yosemite is almost as remote as Death Valley, but it has two things going for it. It is comfortable in the summer when most people visit national parks and it is the place that people have seen pictures of. Half dome is huge and there are literally hundreds of good spots to take a picture of it from but everyone queues up in the same spot because that's what you're supposed to do.