Our second day at Death Valley didn’t start at the crack of dawn — since we had a long day of early driving the day before, we slept in til about 7am. Our hotel didn’t have complimentary breakfast (although it did have complimentary coffee!) so we did what any seasoned pro’s would do: we made oatmeal in our room with the coffee maker! We packed up our day packs, loaded our cooler of snacks and lunch into the car, and headed out for a full day in the park…
Even though 8am didn’t feel incredibly early to us, most people seem to enter the park after 10am. Which turned out to be a huge advantage for us. We got to our first trailhead — Fall Canyon — to see only two other vehicles in the lot. But when we finished up the hike a couple of hours later, the lot was completely full of people just beginning their journey! Fall Canyon Trail is about a 7 mile hike out and back, that I recommend doing in the morning when the weather is a little cooler and the sunlight is a little softer … it makes for some really beautiful colors on the canyon walls! There were a few spots on the road driving to the trailhead that I think you would feel better with a high-clearance vehicle. Luckily, we had one of those so we were good to go!
This hike starts out in the open, but soon you disappear for the rest of the hike through various canyons, all of which have different designs and colors. Every time I turned a corner I felt like the views took my breath away. Incline-wise, there isn’t really one, which makes it a great hike to start the day and warm up. If you hit it at the right time of the year, you will actually run into a “waterfall!” I put this word in quotes because by the time we reached it, it was merely a trickle of water … BUT that was also really cool to see in the middle of the desert. You will literally reach this curved wall where the water comes down and that’s when you know you can turn around. We heard some hikers say they’ve ventured up to the top of the fall … but we didn’t go quite that extreme. We turned around there to complete our 7 mile loop. This ended up being my favorite hike of our entire trip! I guess I just didn’t expect to go so deep into so many canyons in a single hike.
After our first hike of the day, we drove up to the Northern end of the park. This area is most popularly known for being the entrance-way to The Racetrack, or that super weird/cool area where rocks seem to slide around all on their own. While this was on our list of things to see, we didn’t for a couple of reasons: 1) the road there is long … if you want to see The Racetrack, it will take up pretty much your entire day. 2) the road there is rough. You absolutely need 4WD and a high-clearance vehicle. Additionally, you should carry a spare tire,fix-a-flat, and a shovel with you because if you do happen to blow a tire or get stuck, you are out there with no cell service. This is also a good time to mention that you should always carry a ton of water in your car and on your person while exploring the desert!
But we headed to the Northern end for a different reason: Ubehebe Crater and Little Hebe! I think this ended up being Jim’s favorite stop in the park. Ubehebe Crater is actually a 600-ft deep volcanic crater. Little Hebe sits directly next to it on the west end, and is even younger! When we got to the lot, it was moderately full, but people seemed to be getting in and out pretty quickly. We didn’t understand why until we got out of the car and were nearly blown over by the wind! (You’ll notice Jim holding onto his hat in 99% of these photos). We didn’t let that stop us though … we headed right up the hill so we could make the ~3 mile hike around the rim of both Ubehebe and Little Hebe. It was pretty surreal, walking on brown terrain but looking deep into the orange crater. When we reached the end of our loop, we decided to walk down into the crater to the very bottom. This part of our hike was no joke because coming back up was steep…Jim beat me big time, ha! If you’re planning on doing this hike, make sure you’re prepared for the cold wind, and if you want to make the hike much much harder .. definitely venture down into the crater! It’s totally worth it to just lay at the bottom and look allllll the way up.
To close out our day of hiking and sight seeing in the park, we zipped over to Dante’s View and made it juuuust in time for sunset. Dante’s View is part of the Black Mountains and offers one of the most spectacular views of the entire park. Because we didn’t have time to hike this part, we were happy that there was an option to drive up to the very top and park in the lot. It was really breathtaking to see the snowcapped peaks just beyond the desert floor…this is a must-see if you visit DV! It was such a huge contrast to everything else we had seen earlier that day.
And that was Day Two of our Death Valley Weekend! This was my favorite day of the whole weekend because we got to see so many different areas of the park. Even just driving around oo-ing and awe-ing at everything and pulling the car to the side of the road to take photos was great. Having a cooler full of food and water saved us time that would have otherwise been spent grabbing something to eat at one of the lodging areas. We had dinner each night back at our hotel’s restaurant once it was dark out, and of course it wouldn’t be a complete day of hiking if we didn’t finish off the day with a cold beer! Stay tuned for our third and final day in Death Valley!