Even though there’s plenty to do in Death Valley without visiting the named attractions, sooner or later you’re going to want to see these places too — after all, when you return to civilization, everyone in the know is going to ask if you’ve seen the Racetrack, Badwater, Scotty’s Castle, etc. (I’m also irresistibly curious about these places).
There are a few things you can do to ensure you see the big sights without seeing the big crowds. I’m starting to sound anti-social, but my aim in visiting a natural place is to see it in its natural glory. I can accept crowds in the city, but not on the salt flats. So, my main trick to avoid the masses is to go early. Try to arrive at your destination before 8am (I’ll admit, this is a challenge for me, but it is always supremely rewarding). Other good options are visiting on a middle-of-the-week day instead of a weekend or on a day when the weather doesn’t look that great. Or, in an area like the Mesquite Dunes, look at the footprints. Where do they go? They go that way. Go the other way.
While we spent a combined total of seven nights in the park, we still didn’t get to see everything we wanted, partially because large areas of the park can only be accessed by high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. Rocky probably could have made it, but I’m a little too protective of our “home” to risk it — a punctured gas tank would put a serious damper on our trip. I could easily spend two or three weeks in Death Valley and still feel like I wasn’t done. Every day looks slightly different, and with over 3 million acres to explore, you really can’t manage to get bored. If/when we return, we’ll have a jeep and a few weeks to spare.
That said, here are a few of my favorite snapshots of the more popular attractions.