Most of the excitement in Death Valley revolves around the lowest point, at Badwater, and places like Artist’s Drive, Zabriskie Point, and Mesquite Dunes. Attractions on the park’s west side are fewer and farther between. Chances are, though, you’ll end up driving through this side of the park, so here’s a look at some of the places that make it worth the drive.
California Highway 190 passes through Death Valley’s west side. Headed westbound from the valley, you’ll pass over Towne Pass, then Panamint Springs, the road to Darwin Falls. Highway 190 then climbs up to Father Crowley Point, before exiting the park towards Lone Pine and US 395.
The drive into the park from the west is pretty uneventful. You’ll enjoy some nice scenery between Lone Pine and the park border, but probably not a lot that’s worth a stop for photos. So, pull in at the welcome sign and selfie to your heart’s content.
After the park entrance, things get more interesting.
The first place where everyone seems to stop is Father Crowley Point. Here, you’ll enjoy a sweeping view of the Panamint Valley — still one mountain range away from the actual Death Valley. Hopefully, you have a 4-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle, because if you do, you’ll be able to drive all the way out to the point. Otherwise, you’ll have to make about a quarter-mile walk from the paved parking area.
That’s the road that lies ahead. It makes quite a few sweeping curves as it heads down to the bottom of the Panamint Valley.
I’d suggest making a detour, shortly after you leave Father Crowley Point, and before you reach the settlement of Panamint Springs. A side-road leads to an easy trail, which takes you to Darwin Falls. I’ll tell you all about this attraction on a separate page.
Back on the main road, those curves straighten out, and the need for a steering wheel disappears as you cut across the Panamint Valley. You may notice the Panamint Dunes on the north side of the road, far up the valley.
[tmt_info =””]If you’re looking for a rather long detour, turn onto Panamint Valley Road at the bottom of the valley. Head south for a while, and you’ll eventually reach the community of Trona, and then the Trona Pinnacles. I’ll show them to you on a separate page.[/tmt_info]
When you get to the other side of Panamint Valley, you’re in the mountains again. A red convertible seems to be almost a necessity on a road like this.
[tmt_info =””]Death Valley and the surrounding valleys are a great place to enjoy your own private air show. Thanks to nearby military bases, fighter jets routinely rocket through the valley, making tight turns and low passes above the road. On a previous visit, I witnessed one jet fly overhead, then dive into a valley. I was certain that I’d soon see a fireball rising from wreckage at the valley floor. But no, these pilots are in complete control![/tmt_info]
To get from Panamint Valley into Death Valley, you’ll need to pass over Towne Pass. At just shy of 5,000 feet, this part of the park will likely be much cooler than the lower elevations. And during the winter, you might encounter a brief downpour of snow, like I did!
The mini-snowstorm didn’t deter me from going higher. Shortly after Towne Pass, I turned onto Emigrant Canyon Road, which leads out to a dirt side-road that ends at Aguereberry Point. You will need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to make it all the way up to this viewpoint, however you can reach the old Eureka Mine and Pete Aguereberry’s ghost-house (also along this side-road) with a standard sedan. I’ll show you more of Aguereberry Point and the Eureka Mine on separate pages.
Odds are, your visit to the west side of Death Valley National Park will be a necessity. Even if you don’t have to pass through this area, you probably should, if you have time. The Eureka Mine ruins and Darwin Falls are well worth a half-day break from the valley.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive out to Father Crowley Point, then on to Towne Pass and Darwin Falls: