We hit the road early for Death Valley, leaving Whitmore Hot Springs at 3am to make it there at the very first break of light. Death Valley gets ridiculously hot in summer, with averages in the high forties. In fact, the highest temperature ever recorded was in Death Valley – a face melting 57°C! Now you understand why we wanted to get in and out as quick as possible.
Based on kilometres per tank, I calculated that the just over half a tank we had left would get us safely through the valley and to Las Vegas with some to spare. Our only concerns left were the wearing rear brakes that had to get fixed in Vegas and the chance that Fuego might overheat, something unsurprisingly common in the valley. So after confirming our desired route and seeing the first sign of light, we sped down the highway and into the mouth of Death Valley.
Although maybe a little warmer at sunrise than other places we’d been, we were actually surprised by how cool it was as we made our descent. We laughed and joked to eachother “Is this all you’ve got?! HA!” Of course, we’d barely entered the valley at this stage, and our first real stop at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes had us quickly eating our words. It wasn’t even 7am and already 35°C. Lunatics were walking far into the dunes for the perfect photo opportunity, but Anita and I made the wise decision of carrying on otherwise risked being stuck in the valley as it reached the mid fourties.
Our next stop was the Devil’s Golf Course, a visually appealing salt pan with types of divots likely to be caused by the extreme conditions in the valley. We took our photos and quickly returned to the van, driving on to the next of our stops – the notorious Badwater Basin.
The Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, sitting at 282ft below sea level. As you can imagine it gets stupidly hot there, sitting at around 40°C when we pulled up alongside it. We didn’t find a road leading to the basin so assumed it was only reached by foot, so I made the stupid suggestion of walking what only seemed like 150 metres. Now I’m not sure if it was because of the sheer size of the basin with no direct comparison for scale, or that the severe heat was starting to cook my brain, but that 150 metres actually turned out to be closer to 1km. By the time we’d taken our photos and returned to Fuego for a desperate sip of water, I started to get dizzy and felt slightly nauseous. Not fun.
But we continued on, with no rear brakes, no air conditioning, a worryingly high engine temperature and a worryingly low fuel guage, to the Artist’s Palette, a beautiful rock face with an array of naturally occuring colours painted across it, caused by the oxidation of different metals. By this stage I chose to instead appreciate it’s beauty from the driver’s seat while Anita snapped photos from the road, then we continued on.
Our last stop was Zabriskie Point, although unbearingly hot by this stage, the view was incredible. We took our final shots, jumped in the van, and exited the valley, stopping at the first town we could to refuel on petrol and powerade. We’d survived Death Valley, now it was time to celebrate in Las Vegas!