Death Valley certainly isn’t a barren, bland, wasteland. Sure, it’s hot and dry, but the valley’s colorful characteristics might come as quite a surprise. Nowhere in Death Valley is this more striking than along Artist’s Drive, and at the centerpiece of this one-way scenic road, Artist’s Palette.
Artist’s Drive is located off of Badwater Road, just south of the Highway 190 junction at the Furnace Creek area. If you’re headed south, you’ll pass the exit for this one-way loop first, then you’ll see the entrance. Artists Palette is about halfway through the loop, and has plenty of parking and bathroom (vault) facilities.
I ended up at Artist’s Palette on two consecutive nights during my week-long visit to Death Valley. The first time, I was searching for superbloom wildflowers (and found them), then I stayed around for the sunset. It was such a good place, I came back again the following night, and took some even better pictures of an even better sunset.
As you start on Artist’s Drive, you’ll head up towards the foothills. One of the first stops…
… is pretty obvious. Most likely, there will be a lot of people parked at the side of the road, and heading over to a small ridge…
… where this view awaits. From here, the road continues towards the mountains, then turns north…
… where it twists and turns, flirting with the foothills. I discovered that this is a great place to stop and walk around…
… especially during wildflower season. There were some large patches of flowers growing here — all set against a dramatic backdrop of mountain and sky.
A small ridge provided a platform for some of those flowers to bloom…
… with the deepest parts of Death Valley behind them.
On the second night, I climbed up onto the hills on the west side of the road, and discovered even more blooms silhouetted against the pastel sky.
And if you choose to stare directly at the setting sun, you’ll get a nice view of the Panamint Range, on the far side of the valley.
The mountains appear to line up in layers from this viewpoint!
And while all of this is nice…
… the very best spot along Artist’s Drive is at Artist’s Palette. This popular stopping point has a large parking area. A short hike up a ridge takes you to this viewpoint of the Palette.
The mix of colors does, indeed, look a lot like a painter’s palette, mixed and swirled together by God himself, just to give us something remarkable to enjoy.
The rest of the drive back to the highway is less eventful. The road twists through a narrow canyon which I believe is less colorful than the rest of the drive. But in all fairness, on both nights, by the time I reached this point of the drive, the sun had already set, and I was just trying to get back to my motel for the night.
The Bottom Line
Artist’s Palette and Artist’s Drive should be on your short list of places to see in Death Valley. The road is slightly less than 9 miles long, but you’ll probably spend at least a half hour driving it — and that’s if you drove straight through, without any sightseeing. 90 minutes is probably more of a realistic time to allow, in order to enjoy all the sights along the way.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of Artist’s Drive: