Death Valley and the Luxor
So I pretty much spent the majority of my third day in Las Vegas (it was also my birthday) below sea level in the desert. Did that confuse you? Good.
Now to quell the befuddlement. While researching my trip to Vegas, I knew that I wanted to see more than just the dazzle of the strip. At first I really wanted to see some of the old mining towns now abandoned and relatively well preserved due to the dry heat of the desert. Sadly though there weren't any tours that I could find that took you to any of the true ghost towns, only the ones that have been turned into a kitschy tourist trap. So after searching through Lonely Planet I found a fantastic alternative, an all day trip to some of the best spots of Death Valley National Park in the Mojave Desert.
I booked through the tour group Viator and my ticket included a 10 hour tour in a 15 passenger van driven by a knowledgeable tour guide, the price of admission to the park, a box lunch, and pick up and drop off at your hotel.
I got picked up at the Luxor at 8am. Naturally, I was the youngest person aboard but everyone, enthusiastic tour guide included, was incredibly friendly and I got the added bonus of the front seat.
After a quick pit stop to refuel the van and to stretch our legs, or perhaps grab an extra road snack or coffee, we had a short drive through the town of Pahrump (where brothels are legal) and into the park.
The first stop in the park was an added bonus by our tour driver and provided an amazing welcome to the vastness that is Death Valley National Park. Dante's View overlooks the salt flats below and the alluvial. Across the way you can see the Panamint Range and the snow capped Telescope Peak, whose summit is 11, 331 feet high.
Our next location at Zabriskie Point presented a greater understanding of what Death Valley looked like in prehistoric times. At one point there were lush green valleys and tremendous lakes that were spread out as far as the eye could see, instead of the salt, sand and barren rock we see today.
Those rolling mounds of rock you see before you, hundreds of feet high, are actually the remnants of a lake bed. That's right, those massive mounds are actually dried up muddy silt and clay deposits that have been formed through the last few thousands of years via the impressive power of nature.
Just to give you an idea of just how massive these old deposits are, the red arrow is pointing to two hikers who are sitting down to take a break.
Just a neat British car and old RV that were parked in the parking lot of Zabriskie Point.
Our halfway point of the day and lunch was as the Furnace Creek Ranch, where in the middle of January I was happily wearing a t-shirt as the mercury rose up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. After eating my boxed lunch I wandered around, took a stroll through the Borax mining museum, shot a raven (and by shot I mean photographed) and just enjoyed the sun.
The third to last stop of the day was at the Devil's Golf Course. While not a putting green, the golf course is in fact home to large salt formations that jut out of the ground in sharp and odd angles. Walking around and through the formations requires a special amount of balance, grace and concentration; also good shoes as the craggy salt deposits are seriously sharp.
Our second to last stop of the day was probably my favorite and also known as the hottest place on earth, Badwater Basin, which sits at 282 feet below sea level.
The red arrow is pointing to where sea level is.
And the last stop of the day before the drive back was Artists Palette. A small area with big contrast, the different colors are created by the different types of mineral deposits that are present in the area.
With the day drawing to a close, it was time to head back into the van and drive out of the ever impressive Death Valley National Park.
As we made our way back to Las Vegas, up mountain roads and down to the valley, we made one quick pit stop to refuel just as the sun was starting to set, providing a fond farewell to the desolately beautiful Death Valley National Park.
Unfortunately, the long day and continual ear popping from the repetitive changes in elevation left me with a rather huge, throbbing headache. So while I didn't get a chance to really live it up on my birthday while in Las Vegas, I still had a great night after visiting my first Las Vegas buffet at the Luxor (the food was pretty decent, a small selection made slightly smaller since I don't eat red meat - most dishes were either pork or beef based). I finished my night with a drink and seeing Carrot Top perform at the hotel; he was hilarious by the way.
Head still throbbing, I called it an early night so I could enjoy my last full day in the Vegas sunshine before returning to my frozen snow laden home I call the Hudson Valley.
Stay tuned for another Vegas post.