By mid-October, Highway 190 and other byways connecting Death Valley’s most famous sights were reopened to travelers—just in time for fans of the otherworldly desert to get a peek at Badwater underwater for the first time since 2005.
“This is a really special time,” said Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds in a statement. “It’s pretty rare to see a lake in Death Valley!”
Heading south from Furnace Creek, the view of the Badwater on the floor of Death Valley was—for once—not a mirage. The road now ends at the Badwater Trailhead, but the shores of the lake extend well past the parking area.
Though the lake is now reported to be only inches deep, paddleboarders, kayakers and waders were seen taking advantage of the extraordinary phenomenon this week.
The trail from the Badwater parking area is whiter and wider than usual, given the receding water of the pop-up lake. Though, at first, the lake reached the parking area, now visitors walk about 100 yards to reach its fast-receding shore.
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in the U.S. and second only to the Dead Sea worldwide. Its surface is covered by a salt pan measuring 200 square miles, which makes it almost impossible for curious visitors to resist having a taste.
Many visitors waded into the rare lake, though rangers at the visitor center recommended staying on the trail because each step cracks through the salt-encrusted bottom, leaving footprints that may take decades to erase.
Immediately following the storm in August, there were ponds left in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which have now dried up. Now the dunes are once again speckled with crackled patches and hikers.
Rangers don’t know how long the lake will remain at Badwater, but experts say it will likely evaporate into salt crystals by the end of this month.
Making the 10-hour road trip to Death Valley from the Bay Area is not for the faint of heart—but a chance to see Lake Manly makes it especially enticing.
Because of ongoing road repairs, Highway 190 requires an escort for the 12 miles near Stovepipe Wells. Though officials say delays can take an hour each way, the wait was only 15-20 minutes each way last weekend.
Park roads are now open to the major sights in the park, including Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Artist’s Drive, Golden Canyon and Desolation Canyon. Temps top out around 80 degrees in November, compared with the 120-degree highs of the summer months.
The entire Oasis at Death Valley lodging area (formerly known as Furnace Creek Ranch) is also fully open. And after a $200-million renovation, the two properties look an awful lot like an Old West amusement park, replete with a massive, spring-fed, 87-degree pool, golf course and numerous food options.
Staying overnight in Lone Pine makes the trip shorter and more economical, given that rooms at the Oasis now command high-season rates.
Another upside of staying in Lone Pine? Sunrise on the peaks of the Eastern Sierra and all the other glorious views along Highway 395.
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