Death Valley National Park– Visiting The Racetrack, Badwater Basin &More

I have visited Death Valley four times and the most recent one I went was on April 6th 2019 . It was with a group of 9 photographers for a Photography workshop. My friend and I drove from Las Vegas to Beatty NV where we met up with the rest of the group on Friday night. We had an interesting itinerary for the weekend to explore, hike and photograph Death Valley National Park and to me, it is one of the most breathtaking place I have ever seen!

Death Valley National Park is located in both California and Nevada, and it is North America’s driest and hottest spot and has the lowest elevation on the continent—282 feet below sea level.

The first non-Native Americans arrived in Death Valley in 1849 looking for a shortcut to the California gold fields. The name Death Valley was given by a group of pioneers who was lost here in the winter of 1849-1850. One member of their party died.

Saturday –

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
We woke up around 5:45 am to shoot sunrise at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These dunes are the best known and easiest to visit in the national park. It is located in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells, and access is from Hwy. 190 or from the unpaved Sand Dunes Road. These dunes actually cover a vast area.

Sunrise on the Mesquite Sandunes

Next stop is Uhebehe Crater which is located in the north end of Death Valley National Park near the Eureka Dunes and Scotty’s Castle. There’s a parking lot along the rim that provides a great view of the crater.

Ubehebe Crater is a volcano that was created by a phreatic eruption about two thousand years ago. There are three trails to choose from.

Option 1:  hike “Down the crater”
This trail leads off with a quick easy descent to the crater floor, but the steep 600-foot climb back to the rim may take longer.

Option 2: “Little Hebe Trail” which I took was easy. This one-mile out-and-back that follows the western rim to a much smaller adjacent crater called Little Hebe.

Option 3: “The Rim Trail”
Continue past Little Ubehebe on this 2-mile circuit around the crater back to the parking lot.

Then we are off to one of the most fascinating area- Racetrack Playa

From Uhebehe Crater, it’s a 27 miles to Racetrack Playa on rough road. It is a remote location deep within Death Valley National Park. It is a dry lake bed and these “moving rocks” can be found on the floor of the playa with long trails behind them. These rocks slide across the playa, cutting a furrow in the sediment as they move. You need a 4wd, the roads are unpaved for many miles or so. From Furnace Creek to Racetrack Playa, you’ll be driving uphill the entire way and will gain about 3,500 feet in altitude. Returning back to Beatty took us three hours on bumpy unpaved road but it was worth it!

Mysterious Rocks that moves over time

Some of these rocks I learned weigh several hundred pounds. A research project has suggested that a rare combination of rain and wind conditions enable the rocks to move. A rain of about 1/2 inch, will wet the surface of the playa, thus providing a firm but extremely slippery surface. Strong winds may skid the large boulders along the slick mud.

The Grandstand is also a must. You can climb to the top of the rocks and get a spectacular view of the area.

The Grand Stand


Zabriskie Point offers a stunning panorama of the badlands near Furnace Creek. The overlook stands at the upper east end of a badlands terrain full of impressive canyons and gulches. An easy short walk up a paved hill is all it takes to see this amazing vantage point.

Badwater Basin

Most visitor likes to stop here. At 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest elevation in North America. While we are here in April the temperature was well over 90 degrees.

Devil’s Golf course

The Devils Golf Course is another unique short stop on the drive between Badwater and Furnace Creek. The Devils Golf Course itself is made up of large salt formations that jut out of the barren landscape for as far as the eye can see.

Caught a lonely butterfly on Devil’s Golf course

Our day ends with a nice hike on Golden Canyon

The trailhead is at the parking lot along Badwater Road.  Here, you can hike into the canyon as far as you want and then turn around and head back to your vehicle. In my previous hike, we made a complete loop hike up Golden Canyon, across Manly Beacon, skirt by Zabriskie Point, headed down Gower Gulch and then back to the Golden Canyon parking lot. It is about 7 miles and took a little less than 3 hours. This time it was hot, we couldn’t hike much.

View atop of a mountain at Golden Canyon

Something interesting is here is where they shot the first Star Wars.

The landscapes are breathtaking. The sides of the canyon are made up of red mudstone and colorful mosaic conglomerates.

Golden Canyon

All my photos are taken from my phone camera. 

A weekend is not enough to see everything. It would take many days to see it all. Plan Well!


6 thoughts on “Death Valley National Park– Visiting The Racetrack, Badwater Basin &More

  1. Brilliant photos. Thanks for giving me an idea for an alternative road trip route from Vegas to LA region. I’ve written over 20 blogs on our current road trip, I hope you check some of them out.

    Liked by 1 person

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