Death Valley

All of my kids are big Star Wars fans. When we heard that several Star Wars’ scenes were filmed at Death Valley, we knew we had to squeeze a day trip into our Las Vegas vacation.

Zabriskie Point

“Death Valley…so empty, so vast, so simple, so quiet.”

Death Valley is a desert valley in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert, bordering the Great Basin Desert. During summer, it is one of the hottest places on Earth. It is the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park.

Death Valley is the largest national park in the continental United States. It is also an International Dark Sky Park with a Gold Tier rating. With some of the darkest skies in the world, it’s one of the best places to go stargazing. Interestingly, Death Valley has only been a National Park since 1994.

Entrance Fee is $30/car. We had the National Park Pass, so we got in for FREE.

Death Valley is not a gated park. They use an honor system with self-service kiosks throughout the park. You can also purchase your pass at the visitor center.

From Las Vegas there are two ways to enter the park. I’ll share the route we took.

Since we were staying in Henderson, NV, we headed to Death Valley via Pahrump. Death Valley was only two hours from Henderson. Once we entered Death Valley, we made these stops:

  • Zabriskie Point
    • A 1/4-mile walk up a paved path will take you to this amazing viewpoint of the badlands.
    • This is a great spot for viewing the sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately, we only had the day to explore Death Valley, so we missed both.
Zabriskie Point
  • Furnace Creek Visitor Center
    • The visitor center is open daily from 8 am – 5 pm.
    • It’s here where you’ll pay your entrance fee or show your pass/receipt to get a map. Don’t forget to pick up a newspaper. It will have all the information you need-sites not to miss, etc.
    • There are a few exhibits. You can also watch the park film and speak with park rangers.
    • The visitor center also has nice restrooms.
    • Junior Ranger books are available here.
    • There is a gas station adjacent to the visitor center.
  • Badwater Basin
    • Badwater Basin (-282 feet) is the lowest elevation in North America. It features a vast array of salt flats. You can see the salt flats from your car, but a short walk will take you onto the flats. It was very bright. My sunglasses came in handy. I wondered why everyone else was squinting.
    • These flats cover nearly 200 square miles across the park, which makes them one of the world’s largest protected salt flats.
    • These large salt formations, in the shape of a large polygon, form a unique landscape that appears to stretch on forever. 
    • Of course, my youngest had to taste the salt just to see if it really was salty.
    • Stories suggest that Badwater Basin earned its name when a mule belonging to an early surveyor refused to drink from the spring-fed pool near the present-day boardwalk.
    • On the other side of the parking lot, you’ll see a mountain. Look up the side, and you’ll see a sign that says, “Sea Level”. It really puts into perspective how deep -284 feet is.
Badwater Basin
  • Artists Palette
    • Artists Palette is a scenic 9-mile one-way loop through multi-hued hills. Vehicles must be 25-feet or less to go on this road. This is because of the sharp bends and large dips.
    • A spectacular array of colors adorns the hills of Artists Palette. These colors are from volcanic deposits rich in compounds such as iron oxides and chlorite, which creates a rainbow effect.   
    • There are no maintained trails on this loop. You can stop at the pull-outs to get a closer view or to walk on the colored cliffs.
Narrow spot on the Artist Palette Drive
  • Golden Canyon Trail
    • This is one of the park’s most popular day hikes.
    • Length: 3 miles (4.8 km) out and back trip
    • There’s a small parking lot with room for RV’s.
    • There’s a vault toilet near the parking lot.
    • It was here Jawas lurked in the canyon and zapped R2D2. This happened in the first Star Wars movie. My kids were wishing that the exact location would have been marked.
Golden Canyon Trail

  • Mesquite Dunes
    • The dunes can be viewed from your car. This was our last stop, so everyone was tired. A few of us ventured out on the dunes. Bring sandles for easy walking or walk in your bare feet if it isn’t too hot. We saw some people sliding down the dunes on sleds.
    • This is the place where C-3PO got so much sand into his joints at the beginning of the first Star Wars movie.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see Dante’s View. It is the same view that Luke, Obi Wan, C3PO and R2D2 had when they were headed into Mos Eisley. Twenty Mule Team Drive, Golden Canyon, Desolation Canyon, Mesquite Dunes and Artist’s Drive were also filming locations for Star Wars. To read more about Star Wars and Death Valley, follow this LINK.

It’s also interesting to note that the exterior desert landscapes for the Mandolorian were filmed in Death Valley National Park. You can read more about that connection HERE.

On our way out of the park, we stopped at Rhyolite Ghost Town. Rhyolite is 35 miles from Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center on the way to Beatty, Nevada. The town began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. The financial panic of 1907 took its toll on Rhyolite and was seen as the beginning of the end for the town. In 1916 the light and power were finally turned off in the town.

Today you can find several remnants of Rhyolite’s glory days. Some of the walls of the 3-story bank building are still standing, as is part of the old jail. The train depot (privately owned) is one of the few complete buildings left in the town, as is the Bottle House. The Bottle House was restored by Paramount pictures in Jan. 1925.

There’s an outdoor sculpture museum near Ryholite. Goldwell Open Air Museum began in 1984 when Belgian artist Albert Szukalski created a sculpture installation near Rhyolite’s abandoned railroad station.  Entrance to the museum is free, and it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Last Supper by Albert Szukalski.

After leaving Rhyolite, we drove through Beatty. We wish we had stopped at Death Valley Nut & Candy Co. We didn’t hear about it until the day after our Death Valley trip when we were talking with a Las Vegan friend.

When you’re passing through Beatty, make sure to stop there. It’s located at 900 US-95, Beatty, NV 89003. It’s considered the largest candy store in Nevada. They also have a sandwich shop, ice cream and a great selection of beef jerky. They are open seven days a week, 6 am – 10 pm. It’s part of the Eddie’s World Gasoline station and Motel 6 property on the north end of town,

Here are some popular Death Valley sites we skipped because of time: Dantes View, Keane Wonder Mine, Ubehebe Crater, Charcoal Kilns, Father Crowley Vista Point.

Tips:

  • Bring plenty of food and water. The purchasing options are limited and will be expensive. We would have loved to try the Indian frybread at the Shoshone Timbisha Taco Shop (900 Indian Village Drive), but it was closed.
  • Fill up with gas before entering the park. There is gas inside the park just outside the visitor center, but you will pay a hefty price. The gas was $8.75 when we visited in March 2022.
  • Sunglasses help especially when visiting Badwater Basin.
  • Make sure your phone/camera is fully charged. There are lots of great photo opportunities at Death Valley.

Death Valley was definitely a highlight of our trip. We can’t wait to go back. There’s still so much to see.

This Park Map will give you an idea of the area.

Courtesy of NPS

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