Santa Barbara is a modern day Elysium for any college student, and all you have to do is step outside your door to figure out that much. Isla Vista has A-OK weather, prime placement between the beach and mountains, conveniently located convenience stores and a population of good-looking and amiable students. It’s easy to fall into a routine here, and it’s even easier to take our unique niche for granted. To fully appreciate all that is offered here, it helps to experience the end of the spectrum. That’s where Death Valley can assist.
Death Valley National Park is Isla Vista’s antithesis, as their only common denominator is sand. The air is dry, the roads are washboards, the surrounding mountains are daunting and the valley is one of the last places you would ever want to be stranded. Cell phone service is nonexistent, as is water and any humidity. The park rangers have never heard of games like Gaucho Ball or King’s Cup. The only game they play is survival. The skunks and raccoons that plague Isla Vista are welcomed friends compared to the coyotes and mountain lions that roam the valley’s mountainsides.
All that being said, Death Valley is an incredible place to visit. Located 350 miles east of Isla Vista on California’s Nevada border, it contains some of America’s quietest spots and darkest night skies. It is a welcome getaway from technology and civilization. Weighing in at a massive 3.4 million acres, it is the largest park in the country. To put that in perspective, it is roughly 9,000 times the size of Isla Vista.
Death Valley’s colossal breadth is matched by the variety of sites to see and adventures to experience. The park ranges in elevation from -282 feet at Badwater Basin to 11,029 feet at Telescope Peak. Without crampons and ice picks, Telescope Peak is inaccessible during the winter. However, it’s a solid day climb in the summer months when the valley is scorching.
Although the winter climate is still as dry as the salt-beds, the temperatures stay coolly between the 40s and 70s. The winter and early spring months are perfect for getting low in Badwater and the valley. I’d recommend a few attractions in particular. Badwater is a must, as the salt flats are one of the lowest locations on earth. The Ubehebe crater is a site to behold. The mighty volcanic crater is the result of a super-heated ground water explosion, and a steep trail gives access to the bottom of the 500-foot crater. Titus Canyon is worth a drive through. It takes a few hours, but the canyon offers spectacular panoramic views and is home to the Leadfield ghost town. All of these attractions are accessible during the summer too, but be prepared to embrace heat above 120 degrees.
The park is big enough to explore for weeks, but it is packed with enough points of interest to justify a weekend trip. Death Valley may not be your typical idea of a refreshing weekend getaway, but it provides an escape from technology and a new-founded appreciation upon returning to civilization. So instead of posting the typical DP balcony sunset shot, try trekking out to Death Valley for a sunrise shot from Dante’s point. A little variety couldn’t hurt.
Columnist Harrison Gibson recommends three food groups for desert camping: baked beans, bourbon and Mountain Dew.