One of the things I found most surprising about Death Valley was the variety. Although I’ve been to Tucson, the Sonoran desert is very different from the Mojave. For one thing, there are cacti in Arizona—flowering cacti, depending on the season. I envisioned Death Valley living up to its name: dry, barren, brown.
For the most part, this was true. We drove through long stretches of empty land, our guide pointing out the occasional creosote shrub or mesquite tree. Scorpions and rattlesnakes lived out there, I knew, but even those creatures had taken temporary cover from the blazing sun.
And then we saw the sand dunes. Although they were actually yellowish beige, the dunes appeared nearly white against the bright blue sky, with powdery sand so soft, it summoned me out of the car and into the 109-degree heat. I’d done my research for this trip, but I still hadn’t expected this type of desert.
If the dunes looked inviting, the Devil’s Golf Course was their polar opposite. This dry rocky salt pan is filled with halite salt crystals so sharp that not only wouldn’t you want to play golf here, you have to be careful not to nick yourself walking too close. (Note: You’ll need to drive more than a mile down a gravel road to reach this attraction—make sure your tires are in good shape.)
Looking away from the Devil’s Golf Course, I could just see the patches of multicolored rock in the distance. This was the beginning of the Artist’s Palette, a geological wonder of volcanic hills touched with hues of pink, blue, and green, courtesy of the rocks’ mineral content. If you like roller coasters, you’ll love navigating Artist’s Drive, a twisty one-way 9-mile loop through the “palette”. Bring your camera—and maybe some Dramamine.
We finished our sightseeing with a drive up Dante’s View, a 5,500-foot overlook that provides a sweeping panoramic view of Death Valley, Badwater Basin, and a number of nearby mountain ranges. An added bonus: The air atop this viewpoint is considerably cooler than in the Valley. I never thought I’d find 95 degrees so comfortable.