When starting at Stovepipe Wells, going west on Highway 190 in Death Valley National Park will open the door to a world of great adventures. There are several dirt side roads that go to unique wilderness areas along the way and the paved Wildrose Road offers several days of historic sites to explore. When heading west of Wildrose, the Highway 190 touring experience turns into a scenic drive that offers majestic views of the Panamint Mountain Range. Where the paved highway starts the very steep downhill run to the Panamint Valley, the views will be for your eyes only, because there are very few places for safely stopping to take a picture. For this reason, be sure to soak it all up along the way!
The Panamint Mountains are as rugged as it gets and the slopes are some of the steepest in this National Park. This unique desert mountain geology is captivating to gaze upon and eons of erosive forces have exposed colorful mineral deposits that are fascinating to see. These mountains are even more interesting to experience during winter when the towering peaks are capped with snow. Winter is also the best time of the year to tour this park if you do not want to deal with the extreme heat of the very lengthy Death Valley summer, which is usually deep in the triple digit Fahrenheit range.
After melting the brakes on the steep downhill run, Highway 190 flattens out in the Panamint Valley all the way to Panamint Springs. The Panamint Valley actually is located at a much higher elevation than the neighboring Death Valley and the environmental differences are easy to notice. Even so, Panamint Springs is still only about 2000 feet above sea level, so this valley is a fine example of classic low desert terrain. The valley floor is flat as a pancake and it is composed of ancient ocean bottom silt along with decomposed eroded mountain rubble deposited by powerful flash floods. This environment certainly is challenging, but it actually is much hospitable than way down below sea level in Death Valley.
Telescope Peak rises over 11,000 feet above the Panamint Valley and plenty of old west prospecting history was made in this area. The old mining camp ghost towns of Ballarat and Panamint are located a few miles south, which beckon to be experienced when doing the tour. The Panamint Springs Resort is a primary destination in its own right, which is complete with a motel, general store and gas station. Panamint Springs also offers a developed campground that appeals to RV campers and trailer haulers, so a comfortable extended stay can be planned.
Everybody goes to this National Park to experience the infamous desolate Death Valley environment, yet another one of the most picturesque places on earth is located next door and relatively few visitors take on the trip. The Panamint Valley certainly is well worth checking out and it is the gateway to the low Mojave Desert to the south. Panamint Springs is also the gateway to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which are only a few hours northwest by car. The panoramic views certainly are what desert dreams are made of and exploring this section of Death Valley National Park while the weather is cool is the best way to go!
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