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Getaway Guide: Weekend Road Trip to Death Valley

Death Valley is, in every sense, a hot bed for travelers. Temperatures reach into triple digits for the better part of the year, but especially in the summer when the record high so far is a flaming 134 degrees. Death Valley's 3,000 square miles of storied — and, at times, harsh — wilderness exists as part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve to offer a plethora of exotic lures many Angelenos never realized were located so close yet so far away from urban Tinseltown.

Getting There

LA to Death Valley
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Situated about 300 miles — roughly five hours — northeast of downtown Los Angeles via three freeways that run into each other, from Highway 5 to Highway 14 to Highway 395 north near the California/Nevada border, legendary sand dunes, vibrant mountain landscapes, deep volcanic craters and sprawling salt flats are part and parcel to this mysterious outpost, known as the driest, lowest and hottest region in North America.


Death Valley - Zabriskie Point
Photo Credit: americansouthwest.neg

Zabriskie Point 
Death Valley, CA 92328

Price: free

No one who has ever seen the 1970 movie "Zabriskie Point" by noted Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni will ever forget the magical place this master of cinema caught on film in his compelling story. Sitting about 750 feet above Death Valley, these seminal badlands overlook Gower Gulch in the foreground and the white salt flats in the main valley further in the distance. This jaw-dropping landscape is easily viewed by way of a short, 100-yard walk — the trail is a bit steep, but it's paved — to the designated viewing point. For the more adventurous, there's the 2.5-mile Badlands Loop that takes you up to the Golden Canyon Trailhead. Opting for this way to Zabriskie Point makes for an amazing adventure, but it is extremely arduous so don't try it in the summer and make sure to have a back-up vehicle waiting to take you back to your starting point because going on foot both to and fro via this harsh desert landscape is too taxing for most adventurers. That said, prior to any Zabriskie hike, find out current conditions as well as ideas for which hike suits your particular stamina and your specific health conditions. Those answers will come from any of the friendly rangers working out of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, all of whom believe the best time to visit, view, and photograph Zabriskie Point is just as the sun rises.

Death Valley Wildlife Sign
(Photo credit: Death Valley/Facebook)

Death Valley Wildlife 
Death Valley, CA 92328

Price: free

Do not feed the coyotes, ravens, road runners, mule deer, desert bighorn, mountain lion or any other wild beasts in Death Valley. That is strictly and utterly illegal. However, looking at and photographing these marvelous animals is not, and it's often a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In fact, because of the amazing range of both elevations and habitats that belong to Death Valley, some 51 species of native mammals, 307 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, three species of amphibians, and five species and one subspecies of native fish thrive in these parts. It's a small animal kingdom with a lot of activity, so don't miss stopping by the side of the road during your Death Valley visit to meet up with as many of these critters as you can spot and shoot ... with your camera, of course.

Related: Best Places to See Southern California Wild Flowers

Death Valley Artists
Photo Credit: Death Valley/Facebook

Artist's Palette
Death Valley, CA 92328

Price: free

Volcanic and sedimentary rock has never looked so good as on the face of Black Mountain. A wide spectrum of awesome colors take over what is called Artist's Palette, located a few miles north of Badwater. You'll get where you're going by taking the nine-mile, paved loop called Artist's Drive with such sharp turns that passing another vehicle on this lane is next to impossible. The best time to photograph these vibrant natural wonders caused by the oxidation of metals — manganese produces purple, decomposed mica produces green, and iron salts produces red, pink and yellow — is during late afternoon when the sun hits the rock just right. Get ready for an amazing sight for which one memory card — or roll of film if you're kicking it old school — just won't be enough.

Death Valley - Badwater
Photo Credit: Death Valley/Facebook

Devil's Golf Course
Death Valley, CA 92328

Price: free

Long drives aren't part of this particular place, unIess you count getting to Devil's Golf Course, which is located 18 miles south on CA Highway 178 from Furnace Creek to its location at Badwater. Then there's a short drive up a gravel road for about a mile, which can be a little dusty but is always well worth the effort. Oh, and don't expect to be running after a little white ball as that isn't at all part of the agenda in these parts. Besides, your golf game would never survive this particular terrain. Still, do seek out this rock formation haven, even if there's only time for one more Death Valley adventure before you return to Los Angeles. If you do partake in this little adventure, you'll be surrounded by surrealistic salt formations and saturated hues from all vantage points when you hit what is known as the lowest place in the entire western hemisphere.

Related: Desert Trips with Family Adventures


Pastels Dining
Photo Credit:

Pastel's Restaurant

860 Tecopa Hot Springs Road
Tecopa, CA 92389
(760) 852 9289

Although this little joint takes a siesta during the summer between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., plan your naps around Pastel's schedule. It's well worth the change in itinerary for a chance to sample the chef's fresh and healthy menu, which changes on a weekly basis and is based on what fruits and vegetables this creative cook can find in season to bring to his small but tasty eatery. As former executive chef of Las Vegas's popular Mama Jo's, this chef knows how to please a crowd, particularly at breakfast — he makes a mean huevos rancheros. His desserts simply can't be beat as proven by his strawberry rhubarb shortcake. As for a beverage pleaser, the kitchen will blend up a banana avocado milkshake as long as the ingredients are on hand, so ask and you might just receive.


Death Valley Furnace Creek Resort
Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort/Facebook

Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort
Highway 190
Death Valley, CA 92328
(760) 786-2362

Price: from $163 a night

This outpost may seem like a mirage in the middle of nowhere but once on the luxurious premises you'll get to realize the real deal which features everything from the world's lowest golf course to the Borax Museum, from a true-to-life Western saloon to a celebrated spring-fed swimming pool. To be sure, Furnace Creek is not simply a mere hotel, but a full-blown resort and then some. Plan on at least a few days of Death Valley decadence at this legendary retreat, which is much more than simply a sleepy traveler's pit stop. In fact, the iconic resort sports amazing gardens with an abundance of palms that pretty up the premises. Ask for a room overlooking this scene for a serene space to spend the nights in style in the middle of the America's most famous desert.

Tecopa Hot Springs Resort
Photo Credit:

Tecopa Hot Springs Resort
860 Tecopa Hot Springs Road
Tecopa, CA 92389
(760) 852-4420

Price: from $75 a night

The Baden Baden of North America, Tecopa's hot springs rival those famous and silky mineral springs located across the Atlantic in Germany. Like the ones in Deutschland, these are believed to possess restorative qualities, so travelers from around the world come calling to this alleged fountain of youth located about two miles off Highway 127 just east of the southern edge of Death Valley. As part of the mix in this part of the Mohave, the motel in the middle of the desert comes with lots of character but is not a fancy place whatsoever. Rooms are basic and simple. There's no TV, impossible Internet access, and virtually no cell phone service to speak of. So, to enjoy Tecopa to the fullest, simply shut everything down — including yourself — to enjoy the wonders that await in this perfect place for enjoying nature in its purest form. While there, don't miss the mud baths and the marvelous massages.

Los Angeles freelance travel writer Jane Lasky, contributes to publications such as Travel + Leisure, Vogue and Esquire. Her weekly sojourning column ran in 40 newspapers for 20 years. Jane is anything but an accidental tourist. Check out her articles on

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