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DEATH VALLEY — Forget the Mandalorian. Picture, instead, R2D2 and C3PO trudging hopelessly through an endless desert on Tatooine, an unforgiving expanse populated by hostile Jawas, Tusken raiders and vicious aliens — a “wretched hive,” according to Obi Wan Kenobi, “of scum and villainy.”
Those scenes from the original “Star Wars: A New Hope” — the first movie of the series, even if the opening crawl proclaimed it the fourth — were filmed in California’s Death Valley. And if Luke Skywalker couldn’t wait to get out of there, I had no desire to ever visit the place.
I’m an outdoors type, but it took me decades to actually visit the National Park and experience it for myself. What I found made me wish I’d done so much sooner. It’s a spectacular — and spectacularly rugged — place. A first-time visitor can enjoy multiple desert hikes and scenic points of interest within a few days (and never encounter a Jawa or imperial trooper). There are plenty of easy hikes and drivable jaunts. And winter and early spring are the perfect time to go, before the temperature soars.
Here are a few suggestions for what to see and where to go, arranged from least to most strenuous. Because these ARE the sights you’re looking for.
1 Colorful vistas, easy strolls
Artist’s Drive provides a look at marvelously colorful badlands on the western edge of the Black Mountains. A nine-mile drive takes visitors through an explosion of hues, featuring mountains stained red, pink, yellow, green and purple by metals and elements in the soil. There are multiple places to stop and walk around and admire the geology, including the notable Artist’s Palette, an especially colorful viewpoint.
Death Valley’s Artist’s Drive winds through the colorful badlands on the western edge of the Black Mountains. (Getty Images) 2 Desert education
Furnace Creek’s Visitor Center educates visitors on both the geologic and human history of the park. While would-be miners inspired the future park’s name — by getting lost and nearly dying in 1849 — the indigenous Timbisha thrived here for at least a millennium. In 2000, they became the first Native American group to secure land rights within a National Park. Theirs are just a few of the stories captured and retold at this visitor center, which has water, air conditioning and restrooms.
3 Lowest, baddest — and quick
Just south of Artist’s Drive, Badwater Basin marks the lowest dry elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Hikers here enjoy a short out-and-back walk on the large salt flat where a lake existed thousands of years ago. Only a shallow pond of very salty water remains, hence the basin’s name. (Be sure you drank up at the visitor center.)
4 A short historic walk
Take the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail — a short walk off Highway 190 north of Furnace Creek — to see the ruins of a building and a well-preserved 20-mule team wagon …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle