Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada
A landscape of sublime isolation and austere beauty, and the largest national park in the lower 48 states, Death Valley is a world unto itself. Straddling the California-Nevada state line, it consists of snow-capped peaks surrounding a graben (a sunken portion of Earth’s crust), where the geological wonders include painted canyons, spring-fed oases, volcanic craters, towering sand dunes, and a 200-square-mile salt pan. Lodgings within the park range from basic to deluxe, making it easy to immerse yourself in Death Valley for a few days.
Seeing sights takes time here because most are remote and many are reached only after a slow trip on a four-wheel drive road. For an easy excursion, take a spin on paved Artists Drive, which meanders for nine miles up and through an alluvial fan where exposed minerals have turned the earth shades of pink, green, red, yellow, and purple. November through March is prime hiking season. Try the easy 45-minute, out and back hike to Natural Bridge, a big, rock arch carved by water over the eons, or make the easy to moderate, two-mile round trip trek to the summit of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the park’s most famous and accessible dunes.