First Visit to Death Valley

by Aaron Pinner

On short notice, we decided to visit the sand dunes in Death Valley. Planning didn’t take much time or effort since it’s only a 4 hour drive from Los Angeles. We decided to leave Friday afternoon to catch the sunset at the dunes, camp, then check out the rest of the desert the following day. But pictures and videos didn’t prepare us for what we experienced that weekend.

We got to Mesquite Sand Dunes at what seemed like the perfect time. These great dunes resemble the Middle East or the Sahara Desert - only hotter. Luckily, this time of year is the best time to visit. Even the hottest place on Earth gets cold in the winter time (yup, Death Valley has the highest temperature ever recorded at 134 degrees). But today was a cool 60 degrees. As soon as I arrived I was struck by a sense of calm and tranquility like when Santiago, from our favorite book The Alchemist, arrived at the pyramids. The vast expanse of sand created an almost surreal landscape that made me feel like I was in a different world. As the sun began to set and we climbed to the top of the tallest dune, the sky changed into a beautiful array of colors that reflected off the sand creating a truly mesmerizing view. It’s important to always take times like these to take a deep breath and let go of all the stresses and worries that we deal with on a daily basis. The journey was worth it. 

We thought we had seen the best Death Valley had to offer till we went to Zabriskie Point. We read that the best time to experience it was during sunrise, so we had an early morning wake up call at 6am. A higher power must’ve been on our side because we arrived at our destination at nearly the perfect time again. The hill’s natural formations and the layered colors of the surrounding mountains created a stunning view. It truly felt like another planet. The soft light of the morning sun created a peaceful and calming atmosphere of awe and wonder. As the sun rose higher, the soft pinks and oranges of the landscape became more vibrant and vivid, and we couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder and amazement at all the beauty that surrounded us. Hiking through Golden Canyon made this trip so much more incredible. It felt like a different planet. Later on, we found out this is where a few scenes from Star Wars were filmed. It didn’t take long at all to come to the conclusion that this was our favorite location.

Experiencing these otherworldly landscapes almost forces us to analyze our place and time on this planet. How we all came about to be and how short life is in comparison to how long the earth has been forming. It makes us question what is truly important. Forgetting the stresses and anxieties that keep us in fight-or-flight and being more present helps to increase feelings of well-being and has been proven to improve moods, especially in people with PTSD. Even though they call it Death Valley, it became a place for hope. 

After we enjoyed the nice hike to Zabriskie Point, it was time to head to Artists Palette. We couldn’t believe there was more to see. It was beginning to rival some of our most amazing trips. Driving through Death Valley is an experience like no other, and the road to Artists Palette is no exception. As we cruised through the winding roads, the surrounding landscapes morphed into a natural canvas of colors, from deep reds and oranges to vibrant greens and blues. The drive was soothing and meditative, and we felt like we were leaving all our worries behind with each mile we covered. When we finally arrived at Artists Palette, the colors of the hills and rocks were even more vibrant than imagined and the pictures do it no justice. It was a dreamlike setting that made us feel like this is where peace and serenity were born.

After being mesmerized by Artists Palette it was time to head towards our exit. But to get there, we had to cross Natural Bridge. The hike to Natural Bridge was another one of the many highlights of our trip to Death Valley. The trail through the winding canyons and hills offered stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the unique natural formations of the park. Its enormity rivaled The Narrows of Zion, Utah. As we hiked, it felt as if we were building our courage and strength with every step we took. When we finally arrived at Natural Bridge, I was amazed by the size and beauty of the arch. We thought it was very interesting how we never knew a place like this existed so close to home. It was a natural structure that left me in awe of the power and beauty of nature. 

The final stop on our Death Valley tour was the Badlands Basin. The rugged and almost eerie landscape of the basin was both beautiful and intimidating. It looked as white as snow but it was all salt. The stark contrast to the sand dunes and colorful hills made us feel like we were in a  completely different world. And this was all in a thirty mile radius. As we explored the basin, the lowest place in America, we embraced the healing power of nature. We understood why so many movies and music videos used this location to film. The sight of this white desert was a reminder of the beauty and resilience of the natural world.

The trip to Death Valley was a therapeutic and healing experience that left us feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. From the Mesquite Sand Dunes at sunset to the Badlands Basin, each stop on our journey offered a unique and powerful insight.

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