An article by John Crossley, author of the web site
"The American Southwest"
- a description of Death Valley, one of
his favourite places in the Southwest USA. John is from the UK and has
toured the Southwest extensively since 1993.
Most people will have heard something about Death Valley but will have no
desire ever to visit, put off perhaps by images of life-threatening heat
and lifeless sandy desert that the name evokes.
The reality is rather
different as the valley has most of the elements that make Southwest USA
such a remarkably interesting and scenic region, with canyons, mountains,
desert sand dunes, colourful rocks and many wide vistas. It has recently
been designated a National Park, and is one of my favourite places in the
Southwest, not just because of the physical landscape but also the
less-easily definable qualities of remoteness, stark beauty and
The scenery is tremendously variable - there is certainly
plenty of sand, with large well-formed dunes covering many square miles;
but there are also unusual evaporative salt features including the low
salty pools at Badwater - the lowest point in the western hemisphere,
stark side canyons with unusually-coloured rocks and soils, volcanic craters,
and scenic drives along valleys and to mountain viewpoints.
In summer Death Valley can certainly be very hot, but for me and many
other visitors from the cool countries of Europe, this is just an extra
attraction. Even in the fierce heat of summer there is a steady stream of
people, mostly from abroad, driving along the main roads of the southern
section of the National Park looking at the major viewpoints, in
temperatures that may approach 130°F, and it is an unforgettable
experience to wander a little way out onto the salt flats that cover much
of the valley floor, and just stand for a while in the stifling heat. The
scenery in winter is doubtless just as fine, but I would think that
touring in milder weather with temperatures in the 70s would not quite have the
Solitude is another desirable quality, and the land around Death Valley
provides plenty, with hundreds of miles of mostly little-used roads
crossing empty desert. Apart from the major routes CA190 and CA374,
there are few vehicles in summer.
One example is the northern park approach
road, NV267, which descends into the valley through land on a grand scale, with
dark, twisted, rocky hills, sandy plains and dried lake beds such as the
Bonnie Claire Flat - this is just one of many sites in the Southwest that
provides for me the best travel experience of all, that of being able to
relax on a warm evening in a little-known place which is scenic but in an
unusual way, with no other visitors for many miles around. In the August
night I stayed here, the sky was completely clear with innumerable
brilliant stars yet a fierce, hot wind blew for most of the night, often
rocking the small RV in which I was staying by an alarming degree. The
sense of isolation was heightened by the stark, black outlines of the
barren hills that seemed to enclose the lake flats in all directions.
Death Valley is truly a remarkable, haunting place that I hope to revisit
To learn more, visit
just one section of his web site,
"The American Southwest"
that describes in detail the landscapes of all the states of the Southwest.
(Note: Above story and photographs, Copyright © 1999, by Dr. John Crossley. Permission required to reproduce.)