The weather will get cooler, eventually, even in the California deserts. When it does, you can be ready to finally make that trip you've been dreaming of to explore one of America's most unusual places — Death Valley.

"A place of legend and place of trial," says the introduction at Death Valley National Park — http://www.nps.gov/deva/ — where visitors' centers are open all year, even when it's hot enough to brown a burger on the sidewalk. You've seen at least some of it somewhere; click on "History & Culture" for movies and TV shows that have filmed there, including parts of the "Star Wars" movies. That's also the section for reading up on the area's ghost towns, legends and the Scotty's Castle museum. Then you need to scan "Plan Your Visit" for road directions to get to the park, fees, campgrounds and maps, plus links to other information sources.

Don't believe the scenery is worth the long drive? See what commercial photographer Phil Kember has shot in the area — http://www.deathvalleyphoto.com/ — in his color and black-and-white galleries, and through the interactive map under "Destinations." And be sure to try "Links" for his connections to other Web sites in the area.

The Park Service Web site doesn't supply many details for exploring the area, but the "Things to Do" section at Desert USA — http://www.desertusa.com/dv/du—dvpmain.html — has descriptions of roads — paved to primitive — and hiking trails including the half-day trail to Zabriskie Point and the more difficult Mosaic Canyon route. Take a look at "Climate/Map"; the average daily high temperature is down to 75 in November.

Look for more information at the private Death Valley park guide — http://www.death.valley.national-park.com/ — including best places to watch desert sunrises and sunsets.

And don't forget the national parks guide from the outdoor experts at GORP — http://gorp.away.com/gorp/resource/main.htm — for descriptions of trails, scenic drives and the environment. They'll ask you to register; it's free.

If you're heading up to the park from the Los Angeles area, Interstate 15 takes you through Barstow — http://www.barstowchamber.com/visitors/ — on your way to Baker and the turnoff to Death Valley Junction. Barstow is a convenient place to stop for the night, for a meal, or for a quick visit to the outlet stores. Click on "Recreation" for descriptions of ghost towns and hiking areas where you can get acquainted with the surrounding Mohave Desert.

If Las Vegas is your starting point, head northwest up U.S. 95 to the turnoffs at Scotty's Junction, Lathrop Wells or Beatty — http://www.beattynevada.org/ — where you might want to disregard the instructions and turn your speakers down instead of up. After you click on "Enter" look immediately for the little red "Home" button in the lower left corner to reach icons for information on the town and its offerings. If you're just passing through but want a little desert relaxation, click on "Refreshment & Revival" and look for the link to mineral baths.

For more ideas of places to visit and things to see and do, the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce — http://www.deathvalleychamber.org/ — has brief entries on spots such as Artist's Drive and the Amargosa Opera House.

AP-ES-07-31-06 0833EDT

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