DEATH VALLEY – famously known as the hottest place on earth – is a place where sculpted rock layers form deeply shadowed, eroded crevices at the foot of silhouetted hills, their exotic minerals turning ancient mud flats into rainbows of sunlit iridescence. Throughout the summer, the temperature averages 112°F and the hot ground can reach near boiling. Better to come in spring, when wild flowers are in bloom and it’s generally mild and dry. The central north–south valley contains two main outposts, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek, site of the visitor centre.
Dante’s View, 21 miles south on CA-190 and ten miles along a very steep access road, offers a fine morning vista in which the pink-and-gold Panamint Mountains are highlighted by the rising sun. Near Stovepipe Wells, some thirty miles northwest of Furnace Creek, spread fifteen rippled and contoured square miles of ever-changing sand dunes. The most popular sight, though, is the surreal Scotty’s Castle, forty miles north of Stovepipe Wells, built in the 1920s as a luxury desert retreat; tours take in the decorative wooden ceilings, indoor waterfalls and a remote-controlled player piano.
When travelling through this shadeless, desiccated area, be careful about heading out in the middle of the day (when the danger of heatstroke is at its worst), and always carry plenty of water for both car and body.