The answer will surprise you! Just two hours outside of the brightest, shiniest city on earth lies the peaceful Death Valley National Park. It is the largest National Park as well as the driest, lowest, and hottest place on the continent. Of course, it is only the hottest place in the middle of summer and offers a very nice climate for most of the year.
Many visitors associate Las Vegas with the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce–and for good reason, since it sits in the middle of those. But even closer to the city is Death Valley, a truly unique area worthy of a day trip to explore.
The park offers some incredible, wide-open vistas and some unique geological features which will delight travelers. It presents a rare combination of formations and colors that are unlike other national parks.
One of the most unusual areas is called Devil’s Golf Course. Although some may think this place is a golf course with a creative marketing name, it is actually a huge area of rock salt with jagged peaks created by wind and rain erosion. Visitors can walk around on the salt; however, be careful as the crystals are sharp but sparkle in the sun for an unearthly scene.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in Death Valley and actually the second lowest point on Earth next to the Dead Sea. Badwater Basin sits at 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. After parking near this spot, it is possible to walk along the planking and right out onto the salt beds at the bottom of the Earth. It seems possible to walk forever across the flats. A line painted on the mountain represents the sea level and helps show just how far down this basin truly is.
For colors, visit Artist’s Palette, a beautifully scenic drive that displays an array of colors through the hills. This almost hidden section is a scenic loop with red, orange, pink, yellow, blue, and green splashed across the hills and rocks. These colors are created from volcanic deposits that are rich in compounds including iron oxides and chlorite, which result in a rainbow effect. Different colors are highlighted according to the time of day.
Dante’s View is a marvelous overlook of much of the park and, for many, a perfect way to stop at the end of the visit for a last, dramatic view before heading back to Las Vegas. It is a great stop to try to capture the scope and breadth of this massive valley and surrounding mountains standing up to 11,00 feet high.
The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is open daily and offers a great place to learn more about the park, grab lunch or a snack, and maybe even shop for souvenirs or local wares. The park bookstore is also a great place to find some excellent reading materials on the area.
Outside of Death Valley National Park lies a mysterious and fascinating ghost town called Rhyolite. This is one of the best ghost towns anywhere with its rare combination of hauntingly empty buildings and eerie ghost sculptures. Among the buildings still standing are the railroad depot, bank building, and the bottle house. Just a few years ago, the mercantile building was struck by lightning and burned down, yet another example of how nature is reclaiming the area with the passing of time. Just next to the town is a set of ghostly sculptures that adds even more personality to the remote, strange feel of the area. The white ghosts welcome visitors as they approach Rhyolite and are perfect for some fun photos with new friends. Officially, this is part of the Goldwell Open Air Museum and is a free exhibit “wide open” to the public.
National Park Express offers private tours to Death Valley National Park from Las Vegas, including a visit to Rhyolite Ghost Town. The tour takes about 9-10 hours and includes transportation and admissions.