Death Valley Adventure
Take leisurely hikes from 1-2 miles through ancient canyons and along magnificent sand dunes. Retrace the valley’s birth millions of years ago and discover how flora and fauna have adapted to this most magnificent and extreme environment.
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California’s Death Valley abounds in contrasts and extremes and never ceases to provide beauty in unlikely forms. During this unique natural history tour, trace Death Valley’s geological formation over millions of years and study its unique flora and fauna, which have adapted to an extreme environment. During leisurely hikes accompanied by a Smithsonian Journeys expert, explore the valley’s natural diversity of dramatically eroded ancient canyons, magnificent sand dunes, salt flats, and badlands. View the orange, yellow, and gold layers of ancient sandstone in the spectacular Golden Canyon and witness the massive Ubehebe Crater, site of a volcanic explosion. Take in a breathtaking sunrise at Zabriskie Point, and after watching the sunlight illuminate the Badlands and Manly Beacon, travel to Dante’s View for a stunning panoramic view of Telescope Peak, which rises over 11,000 feet above the valley floor.
You’ll also explore Badwater salt flat, which at 282 feet below sea level makes it the lowest place on land in North America and the eighth lowest place on Earth. Tour Scotty’s Castle, built by Walter Scott, the colorful character known as “Death Valley Scotty.” Accommodations are at the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn, where you can relax near the spring-fed pool, stroll the magnificent palm-shaded gardens, and take in the breathtaking desert views.
March 13 — Las Vegas
Individual arrivals and check-in to the DoubleTree Las Vegas. Gather with fellow travelers, Tour Manager and your Smithsonian Journeys Expert at 5:30 pm this evening for a welcome drink, logistical overview of the trip and presentation on the park to prepare you for your adventure followed by dinner. (D)
March 14 — Depart Las Vegas, Shoreline Butte, Badwater & Harmony Borax Works
After breakfast at the hotel you’ll depart by van for Death Valley National Park. En route you’ll stop at Ashford Mill for the chance to see wildflowers in bloom and to witness evidence of the shoreline of the historic Lake Manly on a nearby butte. At its zenith 22,000 years ago, the lake was over 80 miles long and over 600 feet deep, but given the changing climate, it disappeared thousands of years ago. Stretch your legs at Badwater (walk up to 1 mile), at 282 feet below sea level, this salt flat is the lowest place in North America and the eighth lowest place on Earth! The dramatic depth is enhanced by the backdrop of the Panamint Range rising over 11,000 ft. After lunch at Furnace Creek, you’ll stop by the visitor center before touring Harmony Borax Works and learning about the mining history of borax, or “white gold of Death Valley”. Enjoy the first dinner in the park at the historic Furnace Creek Inn. (B,L,D)
March 15 — Dante’s View, Salt Creek & Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Today you’ll experience Dante’s View located at 5,475 ft, and take in a stunning panorama of all 11,049 feet of Telescope Peak (optional hike ½ mile). You’ll learn about the creation of the park’s many alluvial fans, the product of millions of years of sporadic, yet constant, erosion. Later visit Salt Creek (walk ½ mile) and learn about the amazing pupfish, endemic to Death Valley and uniquely adapted to survive in the desert’s harsh environment. End the day’s activities with the chance to walk among the picturesque sand dunes (up to 2 miles). Enjoy some free time at the hotel before dinner nearby. After dining, you’ll enjoy the chance of some stargazing and see firsthand why Death Valley is an officially recognized “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park. (B,L,D)
March 16 — Titus Canyon, Scotty’s Castle & Ubehebe Crater
You’ll start the day exploring the Titus Canyon narrows and hiking (up to 2 miles) among the stratifications of rock marking millions of years of geological history. The opening of the canyon affords the best chance to see a chuckwalla in its natural habitat. These sizable lizards have evolved to inflate their bodies to wedge themselves in the cracks in the rock they live in so as to deter predators attempting to extract them. Later enjoy a living history tour with a docent dressed in period costume at Death Valley Ranch - “Scotty’s Castle” - a beautiful, Spanish-colonial style mansion constructed in the 1920s. Marvel at – with the option to hike (up to 2 miles) around – Ubehebe Crater, site of a massive volcanic explosion leaving a pit in the earth over 500 feet deep and a half a mile across. (B,L,D)
March 17 — Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon & Sunset at Artist’s Palette
Wake just before dawn and transfer to Zabriskie Point to watch as the sunlight slowly illuminates the surrounding mountains. You’ll then return to Furnace Creek for breakfast. Hike 2 miles through the multi-hued walls of Golden Canyon toward the Red Cathedral with the option to continue for a longer hike back through Gower Gulch (adds 2 miles for 4 miles total). After lunch, relax at the hotel with the option to watch the film Amargosa. A finalist for a 1999 Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary, the film provides the backstory in preparation for the visit to the Amargosa Opera House on Friday. This evening enjoy a sunset visit to the pastel-colored volcanic ash deposits of Artist’s Palette. Enjoy a final presentation by your Smithsonian Journeys Expert followed by your farewell dinner at the hotel. (B,L,D)
March 18 — Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Return to Las Vegas / Home
After a final breakfast in the park, visit the Amargosa Opera House, the passionate creation of a dancer and artist, Marta Becket. Transfer to the visitor center at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge to learn of the plight of the pupfish and get a glimpse of Devil’s Hole – home to a species of pupfish that was threatened with extinction by groundwater pumping for farming and a proposed housing development that was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to protect the world’s rarest fish (walk ½ mile). After a picnic lunch, return to Las Vegas. Arrive at McCarran International Airport by 4:00 p.m. Participants should schedule their departures for after 6:00 p.m. in order to have plenty of time to check in and clear security. Guests may also make their own arrangements to overnight at the DoubleTree Las Vegas for flights the following day. (B,L)