A Scenic Death Valley Drive

The Chicago Valley
The Chicago Valley
Photo by Osie Turner

With the winter chill kicking into high gear, what better time for a road trip? You get better gas mileage, the countryside is as beautiful as always through the window and perhaps a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate in the drink holder—all that’s missing is a destination!

Winter is one of the best times to drive through Death Valley, and there are plenty of cool things to see along the way. This drive will hit two of the main Death Valley attractions as well as some very unique off the beaten path locations as well.

Click here for a Custom Map showing the recommended route for this scenic trip.
(Map provided by RoadTripAmerica.com and built by Tom Herbertson.)

We start by driving to Pahrump on the Blue Diamond Highway and transferring onto Nevada State Route 372 towards Shoshone, California. The NV SR 372 quickly turns into the CA SR 178 just outside of town as you go over the state line into California.

The mammoth bones at the Shoshone Museum.Photo by Osie Turner
The mammoth bones at the Shoshone Museum.
Photo by Osie Turner

The SR 178 will take you through the Chicago Valley. a sparsely populated rural area with some beautiful mountain views and a mesquite tree forest on the south (or left) side of the road. The landscape is pretty to look at, but most of the roads are unpaved and a lot of the desert is private property there.

Before you know it, the town of Shoshone comes into view as the SR 178 connects to the CA SR 127. You will not want to miss the Shoshone Museum. It has free admission and has numerous artifacts from the general area. The main attraction though is the complete set of mammoth bones on display that were unearthed near the town.

Continuing on, take the SR 127 a few miles north form Shoshone and reconnect to the SR 178, towards Ashford Junction. We are now in Death Valley National Park, so make sure you have a season pass with you even though there is no one around to check it. More desert landscape and jagged mountains are to be found as the road winds its way up to the junction.

The Ashford Mills ruins.Photo by Osie Turner
The Ashford Mills ruins.
Photo by Osie Turner

A few miles past the junction brings us to the Ashford Mill ruins. This is a great little spot to take a break and stretch your legs. The stone walls of the old mill are still standing and can be explored easily. There are also restrooms and a picnic table here. In the spring, this is a perfect area to see the blooming wildflowers.

From there, the road follows the base of the mountains for about 25 miles to Badwater Basin. This is a great area to spot wildlife; the last time I drove through here I spotted a coyote hanging out just off the road. I pulled over and he fearlessly began to circle the car, perhaps expecting food. Here is a video of the encounter:

Badwater Basin and the Devil’s Golf Course are two of the Death Valley’s most distinct natural wonders and they are not far from each other. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level, and the salt flats are startling. The Devil’s Golf Course looks more like a Martian landscape; the ground is covered in crystal salt clusters leftover from the sea that retreated from this unearthly spot long ago.

Further along the way, the Artist’s Palette is detour you should consider. The road is one way and will reconnect with the SR 178 further north. The stunningly colorful landscape takes its name from the oxidized ores within the rocks, which looks just like its namesake. Whether you take the turnoff or not, you will finally end up in Furnace Creek.

The sign for Devil's Golf Course. The road is unpaved to the more striking areas but seemed to be pretty good condition.Photo by Osie Turner
The sign for Devil’s Golf Course. The road is unpaved to the more striking areas but seemed to be pretty good condition.
Photo by Osie Turner

The road home is the CA SR 190 towards Death Valley Junction. You can either return through Pahrump or by pass it and go further north via California SR 127 at Death Valley Junction and return on the U.S. 95 South. Both directions are about the same distance and time to Las Vegas. No matter which way you go, the total road trip should be five and a half hours drive time and 300 miles roughly. There are a few gas stations in Pahrump and there is one at the Area 51 Travel Center in Amargosa Valley at the junction of Nevada SR 373 and the U.S. 95 South. If desired you could do this trip in the reverse order as well (possibly more convenient if you live in North Las Vegas or the Centennial area.)

We would end up with a novel if I covered everything there is to say about the beauty of the area and history of the things you’ll see along the way. So many in Las Vegas never get out and explore the unique things we have just stone’s throw away.


One response on “A Scenic Death Valley Drive

  1. There is a local’s route to Death Valley….

    From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 south a few miles and exit onto Blue Diamond Road, Nevada Route 160. Drive west about 53 miles to Pahrump. Proceed through Pahrump on Nevada Route 160 another 4.5 miles and turn left (west) on West Bell Vista Avenue (there are brown National Park directional signs). Continue on Bell Vista Road about 20 miles, at the California/Nevada border the road name changes to State Line Road. Follow State Line Road another 6 miles to Death Valley Junction, California. Take California Route 190 west for about 29 miles to the hub of the park, Furnace Creek.

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