When one is wayfaring into unfamiliar territory, particularly one as swelteringly perilous as Death Valley National Park, Pink Jeep Tours is indisputably the best available option (click here to learn more about it). Upon being picked up within a reasonable vicinity of the Las Vegas Strip, the 10-hour, round-trip excursion into Death Valley, CA — the site of the highest ever recorded temperature in North America (an astounding 134 degrees Fahrenheit in July 1913) — is remarkably comfortable and pleasant.
As opposed to a crowded and clunky bus, the mischievously pink Tour Trekker (custom-made by Chrysler) not only attracts abounding smiles from passersby, but is the perfect vehicle to be in when traversing bumpy roads and steep inclines, neither of which are necessarily in short supply at Death Valley. Not to mention, with no more than 10 passengers per Trekker, there is ample time to get to know each one, many of whom are from different parts of the United States, as well as the world. Of course, when experiencing any outdoor adventure, especially Death Valley, the application of sunscreen is a must, as is wearing a hat, in addition to drinking copious amounts of water (which is provided), and staying nourished (a delectable and well-balanced lunch of one’s choosing by Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop is handed out around noon).
Naturally, not every Pink Jeep driver/tour guide is exactly the same, and so each experience will have its own idiosyncratic qualities. For instance, Tommy of Whittier, CA, who has been employed with Pink Jeep Tours over the last four years, sublimely represents why the Pink Jeep brand of touring is preeminent. He speaks to his newfound friends with the utmost respect and courtesy, and as a well-versed photographer, takes professionally angled and flattering photos for his guests, highlighting an odyssey that will not soon be forgotten.
Without question, travelers tend to enjoy what they’re seeing more when it is framed in fascinating stories and a history that raises the stakes of every observation. En route to Death Valley, a tour guide such as Tommy might be inclined to share how Las Vegas came to be the “Township of Paradise” under the auspices of gangster Bugsy Siegel, who had the Flamingo Hotel built, paving the way for an astonishing 150,000 rooms that now line the Strip. There is suddenly a feeling of appreciation and scope that takes form, getting passengers into an appropriate mindset as they depart from where they’re staying to their Death Valley destination.
As it approaches, it becomes clear why the arid national park (it became one in 1995) receives less than one inch of rainfall per year after having once been home to the 600-feet-deep Lake Manly, which dried up nearly 10,000 years ago, leaving pans of salt in its wake. Yet, miraculously, a type of marine life called the Devils Hole pupfish are able to subsist against reason in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (just east of Death Valley), and once every decade, the Death Valley Super Bloom reveals rows and rows of wondrous, albeit short-lived, wildflowers. Even more extraordinary is that Death Valley isn’t even technically a valley, but a graben, meaning a depressed portion of the earth in between two faults.
Moreover, besides being the residence of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, the area, as we soon learn on the Pink Jeep trip, is lush with limestone and volcanic material, and has a rich history of mining and ghost towns that comprise its unique physical character. Certainly, this even goes beyond the land itself; for example, at Death Valley Junction, one will quickly happen upon the Amargosa Opera House, which was run by performer Marta Becket for a period of forty years in a persistent though futile effort to bring “culture” to the region. Just before her death last year, she’d hold recitals each night to audiences of unfortunately none with the exception of 2D patrons that she had painted on the back walls.
While Becket’s attempt at performance art was admirable, the true artistry lies in Death Valley’s narrative, the protagonists of which include the mineral borax – a crystallized salt compound that grows and is used in fiberglass as well as fire-resistant apparel – and the various, tectonically made attractions throughout the park.
The first is Zabriskie Point, which sits at the top of a long serpentine footpath and 900 feet above sea level. It is a breathtaking, panoramic vista of brownish hues, made up of sandstones and shale that uncannily resemble the waves of an ocean. However, in this case, the hilly expanse is the result of not only the drying up of the Furnace Creek River from millions of years prior, but a lava flow – the blackened trail of which is still observable.
Next, following a rocky passageway, is the Devil’s Golf Course, aptly given its sinister moniker because only the Devil himself would consider playing a round of golf there. At 40 feet below sea level, gargantuan grayish white craters, deeply fissured and as high as a few feet tall, occupy the horizon. The razor-sharp mounds of salt are reminiscent of exotic crystals in all shapes and sizes (feel free to taste it!), amounting to a surreal experience on what would seem to be out of a scene in “Lord of the Rings,” or, at the very least, on a planet unknown to mankind. And, on the off chance that it does rain, one can hear echoes of salt harmoniously crackle along the tremendous terra firma.
On the other hand, Badwater Basin, which earned its name because miners tasted the hypertension-causing water and called it “bad” – is soft and smooth compared to the dangerously uneven and mineralized masses of its Devil’s Golf Course counterpart. At 282 feet below sea level (the lowest point in North America), Badwater Basin is a deceptively neverending strip of alabaster salted rock overlain above water, contributing to a spongy sound with each step. Nevertheless, the achromatic ambiance of Badwater Basin is almost heavenly in its disposition, like a white, dream-state walkway to the pearly gates.
It’s almost paradoxical that a place with a name as morbid as Death Valley, which regularly strikes fear into the hearts of those who hear it, is as beautiful as it is. Further denoting this is the Artist’s Palette at the end of Artist’s Drive, uncovering a sedimentary range rife with multicolored splendor, including reds and greens. The main event, though, is probably the famous Dante’s View – a bird’s eye, wide-oriented perspective of the topography below. With a temperature approximately 20 degrees cooler than the Death Valley floor, Dante’s View is a breezy escape into the ether of Eastern California, where, amid the cliff one is looking out from and the mountains across the way, is an abstract hourglass of porcelain white. It’s as if some supernatural entity took a giant salt shaker and sprinkled it lavishly to create an inimitable patch of art.
At last, for those who want to purchase a souvenir, or see informative museum-esque exhibits, the Furnace Creek Visitor Center delves deeper into the backstory of the inscrutable Death Valley.
All in all, the legendarily foreboding park teems with thrills that should ideally be experienced by Pink Jeep Tours. Being on a Pink Jeep with only a handful of people lends itself to a private and personalized adventure inside a stable vehicle that is safely equipped to handle a lot of the off-roading that comes into play at Death Valley. More importantly, the Death Valley Tour offered by Pink Jeep Tours makes one feel like an active participant embarking on a great mission, as opposed to a passive one, making for a fulfilling day that will be raved about to family and friends.
For more information about Pink Jeep Tours’ Death Valley adventure, please visit pinkadventuretours.com