Road Trip: Discover Incredible Beauty on Death Valley Loop

Living in California has its perks. We’re so close to many unique places, and we always make the most of our trips. Spending a few days in Death Valley was the main goal of this road trip, but getting there without stopping is always a challenge. Axle and I love to explore, and when we see a sign, we immediately get curious and have to check it out.

We call this drive the Death Valley Loop. Along the drive from Northern California through Nevada and back, you’ll see signs for elk, cows, burrows, wild horses, rams, big horn sheep, and even low flying aircraft (UFO’s). Besides the abundance of wildlife and incredible views, be sure to visit these really cool places.

The Famous Clown Motel, Tonopah

For a unique detour, check out the clown motel in Tonopah. Situated in front of an old cemetery, the hotel is said to be haunted. Haunted or not, it’s definitely a unique roadside attraction featuring more than 600 clowns! Axle and I opted to take Hwy 95 to stay for the night. We arrived at night when it’s all lit up. They shut the lights off at a certain time so we suggest trying to get there a bit early.

The Clown Motel, Tonopah

The International Car Forest

Completely off the beaten path and a bit scary at night, the International Car Forest is well worth the drive for great photo opportunities. There are a variety of cars buried upside down, right-side up and tagged with unique artwork. On a clear night, it’s a photographer’s dream come true.

International Car Forest

Rhyolite – Ghost Town

This ghost town is right outside of Death Valley National Park. Once known as one of the richest towns in Nevada, many old buildings are still standing and completely intact. One of our favorite buildings was a house built by Tom Kelly in 1906 with over 50,000 liquor bottles! The Goldwell Open Air Museum is further down the road and features various structures from different artists (something you don’t see everyday in the desert). This is a must-see place, especially for history buffs.

Old Bank, Rhyolite

Death Valley National Park

Not many people realize Death Valley is a national park, much less do they know about the incredible beauty and character it holds. This was my first time visiting, but it will not be my last. Each day the gorgeous colors and landscapes left me awestruck and excited to share my experiences with others.

Our first stop was Twenty-Mule Team Canyon. Just off the main park road, take a one-way road through rolling hills that expose unique desert views.

Axle lines up his shot, Twenty Mule Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Upon exiting, head towards popular Zabriskie Point to capture beautiful photos. We couldn’t help ourselves and explored the layers upon layers in this area extensively.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

A short drive from Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin is one of the park’s most popular destinations. The lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level. Take a hike around this unique landscape to truly experience it. It feels like you’re on another planet. Mountains surround the valley, and salt crystals crunch beneath your feet.

Royce at Salt Creek, Death Valley National Park

Driving back from Badwater Basin, stop at another iconic destination: Artist’s Palette. This was by far our favorite place in Death Valley. The paved road takes you along a windy path through the mountains. Take advantage of numerous pull-outs to capture great images, but be prepared to fill up your memory card at the Artist’s Palette.

Royce stays warm in the KÜHL ARKTIK JACKET at the Artist’s Palette in Death Valley National Park

Various metals have oxidized the soil to create eye-popping colors that resemble a painter’s palette. Hike around this natural spectacle, but please tread carefully and help preserve this natural wonder. It’s a magical place you won’t soon forget.

Royce captures a fantastic shot of Axle exploring the Artist’s Palette.

While you’re in Death Valley, we also suggest visiting Mustard Canyon for great nighttime photos.

Mustard Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is another can’t miss spot. We hiked on the sand for the Super Moon, and a clear sky provided the backdrop for our trip’s most epic shots.

The Super Moon rises over the sand dunes in Death Valley, National Park

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower 48 states. The park map is a bit overwhelming, but rangers are happy to assist and direct you to the park’s best attractions.

Helpful Hints

  1. If you hammock camp like we do, there aren’t many trees. Bring a hammock stand, or try to plan ahead for a spot. Furnace Creek Campground is the only campground in the park with trees suitable for hammock camping.
  2. Seeing the rocks move and slide at the Racetrack is a popular activity, but it requires four wheel drive and a long drive. Plan ahead for this day trip. Vehicle rentals are available in Furnace Creek.
  3. Hit up the Stovepipe Wells Village for a hot meal, refreshing drink and souvenirs from the adorable gift shop. Ask for Becca; she’s a rockstar who’s worked at several national parks.
  4. Temperatures vary greatly in the desert. Plan for both warm and cold temperatures. We suggest the following KÜHL apparel:

Alabama Hills

We visited Mobius Arch and Alabama Hills on our way home. We were stunned by this location and the gorgeous views. From the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at Badwater Basin, we drove to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States and Sierra Nevada. A truly unique spectacle, one side of the land is filled with droplet-looking rocks with beautiful colors, and massive mountains rise from the other side.

Alabama Hills

Many westerns have been filmed here, and we understood why in a heartbeat. We suggest staying at one of the campgrounds so you can explore this area for more than a day. There’s so much to see, including a Western Movie Museum in town.


Axle and Royce began their adventures together in Spring 2017. After serving in the Air Force, Axle found his passion in photography. Royce is an athlete, an outdoor adventurist and a photographer. They’ve combined forces to inspire others to get outside. Living in Northern California, they’re lucky to be in close proximity to mountains, desert and beach. There’s no shortage of adventure where they live, and there’s no destination they won’t explore. Follow their adventures on Instagram @axleethington and @casunshine0508

Kühl Editor

At KÜHL, the passion remains to get outdoors and have fun. Our Born in the Mountains contributors share their love for the mountain culture with their stories, reflections and photographs.