Friday Favorites:  Dantes View in Death Valley NP

One of the most beautiful places I have ever seen is looking down at Badwater Basin from Dantes View in Death Valley National Park.   Looking down the 5760 feet in elevation change to the salt flats covering the lowest spot in North America with snow capped Telescope Peak towering behind is just breathtaking.

This view is something that should be the reward after a grueling all day hike.  Instead it’s a short stroll from the parking area at the end of the 8 mile Dantes View Road.  

I hope you get a taste from this video and I encourage you to see for yourself.  rk

Sunday Hikes:  The Ubehebe Crater Trail

If you follow Scotty’s Castle Road north of the main junction of Death Valley National Park, after 33 miles you will arrive at Ubehebe Crater.  This is also where the paved road ends and if you have 4 wheel drive you can continue on to the Racetrack where you can see that mysterious occurrence of rocks that move by themselves.

However that is a story for another day.  On this fine day, along with fellow Bighornblog contributors Josh and Anya we were preparing to hike the Ubehebe Crater Trail. It was mid morning and being Death Valley, the temperature was rising quickly along with the sun in the blue sky scattered with wispy white clouds.

The Ubehebe Crater trail is a 1.5 mile loop trail that surrounds the namesake crater which is of volcanic origin.  The trail is dry black sand and only has 500 feet of elevation change.  This area is arid, treeless and bleak.  However, the views are expansive and the crater is impressive.  We went right which takes the elevation change head on.  After conquering the small incline, also to the right is the Little Ubehebe Crater Trail which adds .7 miles to make a total distance traveled to 2.2 miles.

We took the side trip around Little Ubehebe and rejoined the main trail.  On the opposite side of the main crater we stopped to rest and indulge in some Clif Bars.  Behind us was an impressive looking canyon.   We continued around the loop and quickly arrived back at the rental car and lamented our lack of 4 wheel drive.

Ubehebe Crater is a quick fun hike.  This area is very different than the Badwater Basin area and worth the drive up here.  Have you hiked this trail?  I’d love to hear your impressions of this area of Death Valley NP in the comments.


The Seven Natural Wonders of the Continental United States

Everyone has heard of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, right?   I thought it would be interesting to look at the Seven Natural Wonders of the United States.   Since I haven’t made it to Alaska or Hawaii yet, I will narrow this down to the Seven Natural Wonders of the Continental United States.  Each of these places is magnificent and has been protected by our National Park System

  • Crater Lake – Crater Lake, located in Oregon, is the deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1949 feet.  When measured by average depth, Crater Lake is the deepest in this hemisphere and 3rd deepest in the world.  Crater Lake was formed when a volcanic caldera filled with water over hundreds of years.  This lake is also known for its extreme water clarity.

Crater Lake (photo credit to guest photographer and friend, Katie)

  • The Everglades –  The Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.  Covering 1.5 million acres in southern Florida, this area is also known as a river of grass.  The Everglades used to consist of over 3 million acres before much of the area was drained for farmland in the early 1900’s.   This area is home to alligators, manatees, and the Florida Panther.
  • The Giant Sequoias and Redwoods – These enormous trees in California are the tallest and largest trees in the world.  These two species are closely related.  The Redwoods can reach heights of 375 feet and diameters of 25 feet.  The Giant Sequoias can reach heights of 275 feet and diameters of 30 feet.  These trees truely must be seen to be believed.

Redwood trees in Muir Woods 15 minutes north of San Francisco

  • The Geothermal Features of Yellowstone – Located in northwest Wyoming, Yellowstone is an unearthly place.  The first explorers of the area brought back tales of exploding geysers, colorful pools of hot and poisonous water, and boiling mud that were not believed.  We now know that this area sits upon a super volcano that will one day destroy much of North America when it erupts again.  In the meantime, it is a beautiful and mesmerizing place to visit.

Hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

  • Death Valley – The commonly held image of Death Valley is of a swelteringly hot wasteland.  While it is true summer temps here can top out at 130*F, there is a lot to be amazed at here.  Badwater Basin in the center of the park is a giant salt flat and at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America.  Telescope Peak rises directly behind Badwater Basin to a height of 11043 feet.  The only population of the rarest fish in the world exists in Death Valley.  There are less than 200 Devil’s Hole Pupfish left.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley

  • The Arches of Utah – The highest concentration of rock arches in the world is in Utah.  Arches National Park has over 2000 arches alone with thousands more spread out across southern Utah.  Landscape Arch spans 290 feet.  Rainbow Bridge boasts a height of 290 feet.  Delicate Arch is arguably the most famous in the world.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

  • The Grand Canyon – The Grand Canyon is the only member of this list that is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  It is located in northern Arizona and was carved over a millennia by the Colorado River.  The Grand Canyon has a length of 277 miles, width up to 18 miles and a depth of  6093 feet.  To appreciate the Grand Canyon in all of it’s glory you will want to hike or mule down to the Colorado River.

Sunrise at Mather Point in the Grand Canyon


Odds and Ends from Death Valley NP…

I had a few odds and ends from our recent trip to Death Valley NP that I thought I would share.   I hope you enjoy the pictures and notes from each:


Ashford Mill was our first stop in Death Valley NP.   It was notable for that reason.   We were really excited to get out of the car.


We had an interesting encounter with a strangely friendly coyote on Hwy 178 in the southern portion of the park.   We stopped so we wouldn’t hit it, and it then tried to follow us down the road.   We joked that it was either Wile E. Coyote dazed from one of his crashes or more likely folks had been feeding him and he was now mostly tame.


Badwater Basin is a real highlight of Death Valley NP.   It is amazing how far out the salt flat extends.   The juxtaposition between the valley floor and the snowcapped Telescope Peak is breathtaking.


The Devils Golf Course is an odd feature very near Badwater Basin.   The sign says these features were formed by wind and rain.   They are surprisingly high, maybe 12-18 inches off of the ground.


Close up picture of the salt crystals at The Devils Golf Course.


This panoramic picture from Dante’s View doesn’t do the actual view justice.  Get up here at sunrise or sunset for amazing views.


The Ubehebe Crater area is a must see at Death Valley.   This series of volcanic craters dating back about 2000 years is a fun place to hike.   You can easily access each of the craters in this area by a series of trails.   I think this crater pictured is of Little Ubehebe Crater.   The largest crater (Ubehebe) is 1/2 a mile across and 500 feet deep.


The long road leaving away from Stovepipe Wells heading west.  

If you enjoyed this, please take a look at several of our “Sunday Hikes” features from our time in Death Valley NP.    Thank you!  rk





This is why we can’t have nice things…

During our recent visit to Death Valley National Park (March 10-11, 2017), we saw what appeared to be a van stranded out in the middle of the salt flat at Badwater Basin.   Badwater Basin is known as the lowest point in North America, but is also a giant salt flat that must be seen to be appreciated.   The van appeared to be stranded about 3/4 of a mile or so into the salt flat with tracks left behind in the salt.  The next morning we went up to Dante’s Peak and got an aerial view of the damage to the salt flat.  Unfortunately, this visible damage will take years to recover.


This picture of the vandalism isn’t the best, but was taken from the top of Dante’s Peak the following morning.   This picture also shows the size of the salt flat.

This is just the latest in National Park vandalism that has occurred in recent years.   Just last year, the Racetrack portion of Death Valley NP was vandalized by a rampaging tourist in an SUV.   Also in recent years, we have had names etched into iconic arches in Arches NP, Canadians walking on the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone NP, and street art sprayed onto multiple buildings and rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park among many other acts of vandalism.

There have even been serial vandals like the Casey Nocket who tagged the message “Creepytings” in eight National Parks including Crater Lake NP, Zion NP, and Yosemite NP, among others and then posted the vandalism on social media.   She was caught due to her stupidity and fortunately prosecuted.  rk 






Adopt a Bighorn Sheep in Death Valley National Park

It is somewhat of an inside joke between Josh and I that despite visiting National Parks out west multiple times, we have never seen a bighorn sheep.   We have seen about every other possible animal there is to see, but never the elusive bighorn.   Hence the origin of the name of our blog.


During our visit to Death Valley National Park last weekend, we discovered that the Death Valley Natural History Association had an “Adopt a Bighorn” program to help fund research and monitoring of bighorn sheep.   We of course felt like we had to participate.   This way whenever we see one of those bighorn crossing signs, we can hold up our stuffed bighorn sheep and imagine what it must be like to see the real thing.

If you would like to participate and support the Death Valley Natural History Association, you can contribute at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center like we did or you can follow this link:   rk



Sunday Hikes: Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls was our last hike of the day at Death Valley National Park.   After spending the day enjoying salt flats, sand dunes, and majestic overlooks, we finished our day with this unique hike.   The hiking team was myself, Anya, and Josh.  Darwin Falls in on the far west side of Death Valley NP near Panamint Springs.


To get there, drive west through Panamint Springs and take the first left down a 2.5 mile long bumpy dirt road.    This road gave our rental car a beating before we arrived at the Darwin Falls trailhead.   The trail starts down a wide gravel lined path that soon narrows.   After the first half a mile you start seeing signs of water.   Eventually the trail becomes one with the small stream of water.    After passing some hippies, we climbed over a few rocks and came up to the waterfall and pool.   The water appeared to be about 5 to 6 feet deep and was very cold.  The flow of water was a thin stream that forked before dropping into the pool.



On the way back, we discussed how much cooler this trail was compared to several of the other trails we had done earlier in the day.   We also were able to spot five frogs hanging out together in the water.


At only two miles round trip, the Darwin Falls trail is quick, fun and refreshing.   I recommend it for anyone visiting Death Valley National Park.    rk

A National Park for each Month of 2017

Since we are at the beginning of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to list which National Park would be the best to visit during each month of this year.   Of course, at Bighorntravelblog we believe it is always a good time to visit a National Park, but there are some compelling reasons to visit these parks in the month indicated.    I hope that this inspires you to consider visiting National Parks when planning your vacation time in 2017.

January – Rocky Mountain National Park.   Colorado is known for its great skiing in places like Breckenridge, Vail, and many others.   Why not combine a ski trip with a visit to beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park.   Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of winter activities including ice climbing, mountaineering, snowshoeing and skiing.   This is also one of the few national parks that allows backcountry camping in the winter.

February – Bryce Canyon National Park.   If you think the orange-red hoodoos look amazing in the summer, then you should see them in February when the rock spires are coated with snow.   It is very beautiful and the clear cold skies should make for some great stargazing as well.

March – Death Valley National Park.    Despite the name, in the spring flowers bloom throughout Death Valley.   Perhaps you will get lucky and during a March visit get to see the Superbloom which happens about once a decade (which is about how often they get any substantial rain in the park).

April – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.   Late April after Spring Break is usually one of the more inexpensive times of year to fly to Hawaii.    The weather here is always perfect plus you could tack on a visit to Haleakala National Park as well.

May – Grand Canyon National Park.   The Grand Canyon is always a great place to visit.   In May you can beat the summer crowds and heat and dodge the snow that is here in the winter.


June – Great Basin National Park.  Summertime is when the crowds really come out to the National Parks.  Why not take this time to visit one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48.   This is one the best places to see the stars in the lower 48.   Summers are the one time a year you can see the yellow bellied rock marmot.   The yellow bellied rock marmot hibernates for 9 months a year and is usually only seen in mid summer as they sunbathe on the rocks.

July – Zion National Park.   Now I know, Zion is a zoo with crowds in July.   But July is the best time to hike the Narrows or the Subway.   Wading through the cold water of the Virgin River feels great when it is over 100*F and the risk of flash floods washing you out of the canyon is minimized.

August – Olympic National Park.   Olympic is normally very rainy and wet, but in August you have your best shot of sunny skies and relatively warm weather.   The clear skies are also make this a great time for a side trip to the Space Needle in Seattle to get great views of Olympic and Mt Ranier National Parks.


September – Yosemite National Park.   Yosemite is another park that in the summer months is difficult to traverse due to crowds.   But visiting in the winter isn’t great because many of the roads are closed and huge portions of the park aren’t accessible.   September is a great time to visit as school is in session so the crowds are down and all of the park is open for business.

October – Acadia National Park.    Acadia in October is stunning.    The New England foliage is showing their full color and the weather is perfect.   Add in some lobster rolls was watching the ocean crash on the black rocks and I can’t think of a better place to be in October.

November – Biscayne National Park.  Visiting this park in South Florida in the summer is like giving yourself over to the mosquitoes as a human sacrifice, but the bugs die down in late fall but the weather is still nice.   This is the best time of year to visit this park.

December – Yellowstone National Park.   Snowmobiling through Yellowstone is one of my bucket list items.   Wildlife is easy to spot in the snow and the cold air really shows off the steam rising from the hot springs and geysers.