Death Valley National Park, Southern Section
The Furnace Creek area is the most developed section of Death Valley park. It has the closest campgrounds and services to many of the most popular attractions in the park such as Badwater Basin, Dante's View, etc. There are two hotels, stores, a gas station, visitor center and several campgrounds in and around Furnace Creek. As of 2014 Furnace Creek was the only place in the park with cell reception. Furnace Creek campground is the only decent campground in the Furnace Creek area for tent camping. Texas Spring and Sunset are HORRIBLE. Furnace Creek frequently fills up so if you don't make a reservation you might get stuck in Sunset or Texas Spring. Sunset and Texas Spring are designed for tightly parked RVs and they always have plenty of free spaces. The sites are basically small strips of sharp rock gravel with no privacy. It's mind boggling to me that in the vast empty landscape of Death Valley that the NPS can't find some space for a few additional tent sites. And yet there is a surplus of RV sites. Tent sites at Furnace Creek are also the most expensive sites in the park at $18 per night. Off-road camping is allowed two or more miles away from paved and major gravel roads throughout the park. Otherwise, there are no other camping options near Furnace Creek. Gas is expensive at the gas station in Furnace Creek. Expect to pay close to 2 dollars more per gallon than the going rate outside the park. Stovepipe Wells gas is usually slightly cheaper.
Badwater Basin is an incredibly strange landscape. This dry lake bed at the bottom of Death Valley is the lowest point in North America. When I visited in 2011 there was water in Badwater Basin (see panorama at the bottom of this page). All of the other times I've visited the basin has been dry. Badwater is a really interesting place to go at night. There is a fair amount of light pollution in the Southern sky over Badwater which makes photographing the Milkyway difficult, although some have managed. There is a parking area with pit toilets at Badwater with a trail leading out onto the basin. The parking area gets very crowded during the middle of the day which is precisely when no one should want to be there. The sun and heat can be really unpleasant at mid-day in Badwater even in the Winter. Sunrise, sunset and night are the best times to be at Badwater and at those times it's usually fairly empty. The trail leading away from the parking area extends for a few hundred yards out into the lake bed but people are free to walk all the way across the basin (5 miles) if they want.
Dante's viewpoint offers spectacular views of Death Valley from 5,700 feet above Badwater Basin. The road to the viewpoint is long but paved and well maintained. There are trails that lead away from the parking area going both North and South making it easy to get away from the crowds. The view point looks West over the Valley so at sunset the view of the valley is pretty thoroughly washed out by the sun. I've never been at Dante's Viewpoint at sunrise but I imagine it would be very nice. The trails away from the parking area are steep and slightly treacherous to walk in the dark but the night sky at Dante's is pretty amazing. There is significant light pollution in the distance in all directions at Dante's View. It's a great place to look at the stars but not a great place for night photography. There is a panorama of the daytime view at the bottom of this page.
One of a few ruins of borax works in Death Valley is just North of Furnace Creek (above). It's by far the easiest ruin of any kind to get to in the park. It's very obtrusively fenced off though and not incredibly interesting.
Zabriskie Point is well worth checking out. The view from Zabriskie point is straight into the sun in the afternoon and evening which is when most people seem to go there. It's much nicer at sunrise and early morning. It's also low altitude and gets very hot in the daytime.
Artist's drive and Devil's golf course are worth going to. Artist's drive is especially nice at sunrise or sunset.
Rhyolite ghost town is close to the park's Eastern edge off of highway 374 and is definitely worth a visit. Just beyond Rhyolite is Beatty Nevada. Beatty, which is a little under an hour from Furnace creek has groceries, hotels, gas, camping, etc.
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