I SLOWLY OPEN MY EYES, SHIVERING IN MY SLEEPING BAG AS THE NIGHT’S CHILL PRICKS THE SKIN OF MY EXPOSED NECK AND FACE. AS I GRADUALLY RECLAIM MY SENSES FROM SLEEP’S GRIP, MY EARS ADJUST TO THE NEARLY COMPLETE SILENCE SURROUNDING ME, BROKEN ONLY BY AN OCCASIONAL WHISPER OF WIND. I UNZIP THE DOOR OF MY TENT AND POKE MY HEAD OUTSIDE. THE DESERT SPREADS OUT BEFORE ME, BRILLIANTLY AND EERILY LIT UP BY THE NEARLY FULL MOON. IT LITERALLY TAKES MY BREATH AWAY. I STEP OUTSIDE, A SMILE CREEPING ACROSS MY FACE AS I BASK IN THE STARK, INCREDIBLE BEAUTY THAT IS DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK.
Earlier that March morning back in Los Angeles, my fiancee and I loaded up our 2004 Subaru Impreza with the essentials – tent, sleeping bags, food, and lots of water. We also remembered to pack warm clothing. Although the mercury regularly soars well past 100 degrees during the summer in Death Valley, early spring is a much more comfortable time of year to visit. Temperatures range from the low 50s to mid-70s. In addition, the wildflowers are just beginning to bloom, painting the barren moonscape with splashes of vibrant color.
Death Valley is a land of harsh extremes – hot and cold, extremely arid yet prone to flash floods, and home to towering mountains as well as Badwater, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
The park requires a few days to fully explore, as it covers almost 3,000 square miles. Of course, if you're simply cruising through, happily gazing out at the scenery from your climate-controlled car, these factors of temperature and distance don't present much of a challenge.
The idea is to get out and explore, though. Give it a try – stand for a few minutes on the cracked, baked, salty sands at the bottom of the desert basin, gazing up at the sublime, snowcapped peaks rimming the park, and you'll realize that this is a place like no other.