Our trip begins this morning in Las Vegas, Nevada. After a quick round of introductions we hop into the van for a three hour drive to our hotel in Death Valley National Park. Ash meadows is one of our rest stops along the way where we take a casual stroll along the board walks to stretch our legs and enjoy the wonder of the desert oasis. After arriving at our hotel we have free time to settle into our rooms before we meet for dinner and talk about the upcoming week's itinerary. On our spring (February and March) departures we'll walk a short distance out onto the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for a sunset picnic dinner. Dinner included.
After breakfast, we hike across the foothills of the Funeral Mountains to the multi-colored badlands of Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Golden Canyon. We begin at 1,800' and descend to below sea level through a maze of canyons to a viewpoint overlooking the Death Valley saltpan. Our guides take the time to point out the landscape's fascinating geological features and enlighten us on the natural history of this unique ecosystem. All meals included.
Hiking: 10 miles. Terrain: cross-country through open desert and narrow canyons; some rock scrambling. Elev. gain/loss: 300'/1,900'.
Today we drive to a deep, narrow canyon carved into polished marble and colorful mosaics of dolomite. We hike through several sections of narrows before scrambling out of the canyon to a rim trail that takes us around an unclimbable 25' dry waterfall. The rim trail is the gateway to a deep, twisted gorge and another tall, dry fall and grotto. We follow the rim trail high above the canyon as we head back to the trailhead, stopping to take in the expansive view across Mesquite Flat and Death Valley. All meals included.
Hiking: 5 miles. Terrain: primitive hiking trail and gravel wash bottom; some rock scrambling. Elev. gain/loss: 1,500'.
We'll drive to Dante's View at 5,500' and strike off cross-country along the spine of the Black Mountains, with amazing views on both sides. To the west, we'll look down a vertical mile to Badwater and the Death Valley saltpan, with the snow-covered summit of Telescope Peak (11,049') directly across the valley. To the east, we'll look out over range after range of mountains spilling across the California-Nevada border. (Note: if the weather is too chilly, an excellent alternate hike from the Devil's Cornfield to Salt Creek across the floor of Death Valley will be substituted.) All meals included.
Hiking: 5 miles. Terrain: cross-country, primitive hiking trail. Elev. gain/loss: 1,200'.
A drive of 50 miles over a mostly paved road transports us to Red Pass, where we descend (by van) over 5,000' through the Grapevine Mountains to Death Valley proper. Along the way we stop to climb a stunning desert peak, scrambling up a rocky ridge for an incredible 360 degree view of the surrounding desert, then hike the Titus Canyon narrows – an impressive, deeply entrenched slot canyon. Note: If the weather is too chilly for our peak climb, an alternate lower elevation hike through the Titus Canyon narrows will be substituted. All meals included.
Hiking to peak: 5 miles. Terrain: moderately steep, primitive hiking trail plus cross-country; rock scrambling required for optional summit climb. Elev. gain/loss: 1,800'. Hiking Titus Canyon: 2 miles. Terrain: dirt and gravel primitive road. Elev. loss: 500'.
We finish our exploration of Death Valley appropriately with a visit to Badwater and the Devil's Golf Course. Badwater, at 280' below sea level, is just a few miles from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and quite possibly the hottest spot on earth during the summer months. Nearby, the short, jagged salt pinnacles clustered together to form the Devil's Golf Course shape a bizarre landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. After returning to the van, we say our goodbyes to this awe-inspiring national park and set out on our 3-hour ride back to Las Vegas. Breakfast and lunch included.