We had to check out pretty early from our hotel in Las Vegas, so I tried to find something en route to Death Valley for us to stop and look at. It was a bit tricky- Death Valley is a National Park, but it’s also the desert. And not many settlements exist in the desert, for obvious reasons- it’s bloody hot! Neither of us saw Death Valley as a highlight of the trip, more as a stop on the way, but we were so wrong!

About an hour into our two hour trip, we stopped in Pahrump, a small town that had a Walmart, fuel and a diner to eat in. Shopping, clothes in particular, are super cheap in America, and we wanted to see what Walmart looked like State-Side (much better than Asda), so we bought some more shorts and t-shirts and snacks. My husband fought it out with the petrol station (gas station- you can’t fill up and pay afterwards if you’re foreign, you have to pre-pay) before we headed to a Denny’s Diner. You have to ignore the calories on the menu- a milkshake had 1000 calories minimum and most meals had a minimum of 1400! We joked that we were heading into Death Valley and might not see food for miles- this was pretty true as it turned out, and there also weren’t any public restrooms or gas stations for a while!

Photo: Desert ground

Back in the car, we started our way into Death Valley. Basically, Death Valley is a desert with mountains on either side. Some of it is below sea level, which makes it even hotter, and the mountains are obviously higher than sea level. The valley gets exposed to all types of elements and weather types at different times of the year, which is why it is shaped the way it is. It has lots of salt plains which make it look like water shimmering from a distance, but aren’t. I’ve seen enough CSI to know you don’t venture far in the desert without lots of water because you die pretty quickly, and I can really see why! On our way to our hotel, we stopped at Zabriskies Point for a look at the views. It was too hot to sit down on the benches, in fact, if you breathed through your nose, it was like breathing through your nose in a sauna, where you it kind of burns.

Photo: between the Ranch and the Hotel

Our hotel was amazing, the Furnace Creek Inn. There are two parts to it, a ranch about a mile down the road where working families used to stay, which is now a resort with camping and lodges (and a convenience shop), and the part we stayed in, which was the hotel.  To get from the car park to the lobby, you had to walk through a tunnel set into the hill and get the lift up. Our room was on a walkway, looking out over the valley and was more of a little bungalow with a big bathroom and walk in closet. We went immediately to the pool, having checked in early and making the most of it being quiet. The ground can be twice as hot as the air temperature, so my husband managed to burn his feet. The pool was amazing, a proper swimming pool this time (not like Vegas), with views of palm trees and mountains and it was warm, fed by natural springs. You dried within about 5 minutes of having got out.

Photo: Furnace Creek Inn Pool

I don’t think the hotel does a lot to change the water or indoor air temperature much, having a shower with just the cold tap on was warm enough. The Furnace Creek Inn does everything it can to minimise the environmental affects on the surrounding area, so water is reused where possible. It’s also a protected Dark Zone. We went for dinner in the steakhouse at the Ranch, and our sever said that no one gets used to the heat, they just spend a lot of time indoors in the summer. Just going outside you’d start to sweat within seconds. It’s crazy. Although the temperature isn’t necessarily any hotter than LA, it feels like it is because it’s so dry.

Photo: Furnace Creek Inn grounds

We watched the sunset over the mountains from a semi private veranda right outside our room and then went to the bar for a drink before heading back out to look at the stars. We must have spent about 2 hours just looking up, but you could see plenty of shooting stars and the Milky Way quite clearly. It was really peaceful lying on sun loungers and looking up at the sky- this was one of the best parts of the trip for me. All the other residents were really calm and quiet as well.

We got up early the next morning, mainly because I was too hot and couldn’t sleep, but also because we had a 6 hour drive to Yosemite. There was another breakfast buffet, which was pretty good value for 11 dollars at the Ranch, and carried on driving through Death Valley. This time we had to drive through the mountains so had some spectacular views of salt plains, dunes, and the different types of rocks. We stopped at one point on a deserted road and took silly photos of standing in the middle. We saw coyotes and cactuses, and lots of cars with ‘coats’ on, I assume to protect the paintwork from the sand. The terrain changed rapidly as we drove through the park, and got more green the closer we got to Yosemite.

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