The Best of Death Valley: Artist’s Drive

The Best of Death Valley: Artist’s Drive

Artist's drive

Most people zip through the few-mile-long Artist’s Drive on their way to the “destination” spots in Death Valley, like Badwater or Furnace Creek. We spent the equivalent of one full day on the drive and suggest anyone looking to get away from the crowds and find some amazing scenery do the same. Artist’s Drive cuts through the heart of some of the best badlands in Death Valley. We stopped often, but wanted to highlight four places (numbered on the map) where we jumped out of the car and found some especially incredible sights. The great thing about roads like this is that they get you up close to the interesting stuff, so you don’t have to hike for miles to get into the guts of the mountains. And they’re fun to drive.

Remember, it doesn’t have to have a name to be interesting.

1: The First Dip

The one lane, one way Artist’s Drive passes through two major dips as it crosses washes coming down off the mountains. The first dip doesn’t let you scramble too far before you’re faced with a 20 foot dryfall, but it offers great views back towards the valley and is a good introduction to the washes on this section of the drive.

2: The Second Dip

The second dip starts out with a scattering of rainbow dirt and a short climb up a pink rock dryfall. This wash is surrounded by dramatic, towering cliffs. A few hundred feet up the canyon a side wall has collapsed and filled the wash with a mixture of boulders and what looks like cement, but you can scramble up and over and around until you’re exhausted. Just keep one ear open for the sound of rocks crashing. This one feels active.

3: Artist’s Palette

Most people get out of their cars at this overlook, snap a pic, use the pit toilet, get back in their cars, and drive on. Some don’t even get out of the car. They don’t know what they’re missing. The Artist’s Palette overlook is a great access point to two major washes and countless side washes – you could spend an entire day exploring this area alone.

We found the most interesting features by following the first wash, to the immediate right once you scramble down from the parking lot, but every turn offered something interesting. Like purple dirt, or a tarantula.

4: The Unnamed Corner

I’m not sure we could find this same spot again if we tried. It might not even look the same, depending on the time of day, the angle of the sun, the number of clouds, your mood. The point is, you should stop the car whenever you think you might find something interesting. Even if you just stopped ten feet ago.

I’m quickly getting addicted to canyon scrambling. I’m not a huge thrill seeker, but there’s something addicting about the small, cozy spaces, the ever-changing lighting, the sense of exploration, the difficulty in capturing the scenery on film (ahem, pixels), and the feeling that you’re the only people for miles and miles – just you and this ancient, ever-evolving crack in the earth.

10 thoughts on “The Best of Death Valley: Artist’s Drive”

    • Scott – that is the advantage of carrying the contents of your “house” everywhere you go!  But seriously, we should mention that you can’t have such a laid back attitude to Death Valley or any desert area in the warm months or during any type of thunderstorm.  This is the time to be here.

  • You certainly have morphed from the son who moaned when I wanted to jump out of the car at “Buena Vistas” on our trip out West in the late 80’s!

  • The canyon behind the 2nd dip of Artists Drive is the best. We always enjoy taking people there on a quick tour through Death Valley. The rock scrambling looks daunting and difficult, but it’s well worth it!

    Thanks for pointing out the other canyon to scramble up behind Artists Palette. We’ll have to check that one out the next time we’re there.

    Enjoy your trip!

    Cliff Bandringa
    Trip blog:

  • Hmmm, I can’t say that I’ve heard of anyone saying that the Artist’s Palette is a good place to get away from the crowds, as it’s one of the “must do’s” of NPS. ;)

    If you’re still in the park, I recommend that you head up toward Telescope Peak, maybe spend a night at Mahogany Flat; see the Charcoal Kilns; or head out to the abandoned mine at Skidoo. There’s also the secret underground river lurking in an undisclosed spot around the Devil’s Golf Course(you’ll have to find it); the Ubehebe Crater; Racetrack Playa, and of course, Titus Canyon. Or, if you really want to get away from the “crowds”, there’s the Saline Valley portion of the park…dun dun DUNNNN! :)

    • Yep, we got over to the Saline Canyon, more to come on that. And Artist’s Palette is only cool if you get out of your car and explore the canyon maze at the foot of the parking lot — most people just get out of their cars long enough to snap a pic.

    • Also, every post is invisibly subtitled in our humble opinion!  That said, if we do get back to Death Valley, we’ll check out these suggestions.  I left feeling overwhelmed with the amount of stuff left unexplored.  

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