Day 4: Exploring the area south of Furnace Creek
Location: Death Valley National Park
Points of Interest: Artist’s Drive, Golden Canyon, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point
Hike: Golden Canyon (1 mile, one-way, up to Red Cathedral Junction, start at Golden Canyon parking area)
Lodging: Furnace Creek Inn
The final part of the Death Valley trip, I promise. This was our first year being away from home on Christmas (since kiddo was born), and we weren’t sure how we were going to feel about it, but we woke up feeling exhilarated. New traditions and new experiences was what this trip was about. We celebrated with a big breakfast at the Furnace Creek Inn (try their berry pancakes and eggs benedict, oh man!). The staff, even though they weren’t with their own families on Christmas, were so friendly and went out of their way to make our experience special (thank you from the bottom of our hearts!). We left to explore the day with a full belly and happy heart.
If you want your junior high kid to be totally excited about Death Valley and be in the best mood the entire trip, tell them that some of Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope (and Return of the Jedi also) was filmed in Death Valley, that is if they like Star Wars. We saved the area south of Furnace Creek to explore Christmas day because we were going to try to find some of the movie locations. We did some research (here’s a great website) and took some screen shots of the movie before we left, so we had an idea of where to look.
The first stop was Artist’s Drive:Artist’s Drive was a one-way scenic loop about 9 miles in length. There are many turnouts that allow you to get out and explore, but the highlight is Artist’s Palette. Here, there is a parking lot and a way for you to get to the mountainside and look at this colorful area up close.
At the parking lot on the left when you look over the edge, we found our first Star Wars screen shot of the day (screen shot on the left and our picture on the right):
Then one more when we were hiking around the bottom:
We climbed up as far as we could and looked around:
Golden Canyon Hike
We headed up north to Golden Canyon for a hike and to look for more movie screen shots. The parking lot was pretty crazy, this was a very popular place on Christmas day.
Found our first Star Wars movie location at Golden Canyon:
One more, but after getting home and looking more carefully, the distance which we took the picture was off. (It’s the right area, but we took the picture too close and too far to the left).
The hike was aptly named, taking you through a canyon, golden in color.
By the way, Mesquite Sand Dunes had a movie location. The pics are not quite lined up, the pointy mountain is on the opposite side, but you get the gist right?).
We found a few more, but we weren’t 100% sure. I mean it’s been 39 years since the release of the movie, landscapes can change! I have to say the search for movie locations made the hikes, so much more fun and engaging.
Badwater Basin, our final stop before heading back to the inn, gave us our white Christmas! Kind of.
This salt flat is said to cover 200 square miles! It was so strange, the salt felt and sounded like real snow when you walked on top of it (crunch, crunch, crunch). You could easily imagine that you were walking through a snow covered field because it got cold and windy after the sun went down, definitely didn’t feel like the desert.
Furnace Creek Inn:
Before we checked out the next day, we walked around the beautiful Furnace Creek Inn grounds and snapped some pics:
December 26 started feeling very crowded, we saw many more tour buses, and a steady stream of cars and RVs. We stopped at Zabriskie Point on the way out and were astounded at the crowds of people. It felt like a good time to leave Death Valley.
When it comes time to thinking about a winter trip, keep Death Valley National Park in mind, especially if you can manage it before Christmas. This place was amazing and the weather was beautiful. Although it was peak season, it didn’t feel crowded at all at least before Christmas. What I was most surprised about was how varied the terrain was. There is so much to do and so many different things to see for all ages and abilities. Don’t let the name Death Valley deter you either. The story goes that a group of pioneers got lost in this valley over a winter, survived the harsh season, and were rescued. Someone in their group turned back and said, “Goodbye Death Valley” and the name stuck. It seems that one person died before being rescued (not the many that I had imagined because of the name). See, not as ominous as you thought, right?
If you’re interested, check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 of the Death Valley Christmas Trip