New year, new adventures! No one takes that attitude more seriously than Darek and Ilona, who are already kicking off 2016 with some traveling awesomeness.

I mean, what’d you expect? These two definitely aren’t starting off January by sitting at home!

This month, our favorite globe-trotting couple jetted off to Death Valley. They hiked, they saw coyote, and they pondered the mystery of the Raceway’s weird, moving rocks. Are you planning a visit to Death Valley anytime soon? Read on to get inspired!

What sparked your initial interest to visit Death Valley?

 Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona: Seriously, I have no idea. I think that the major reason was the fact that this park is not so popular even though it’s the largest park in the lower 48 states and because of the name.

Darek: I was driving through that park a few years ago. Unfortunately, then I didn’t have much time to explore it, so I told myself that I’d have to come back as soon as possible!

Why is it called Death Valley?

 Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona: Because nothing lives there. Well, that’s not totally true, but it’s really hard to survive in the driest and hottest climate in North America.

Darek: I don’t know who named it or why, but I think the name suits it perfectly. Nothing can survive such hot temperatures with almost no water.

How would you describe Death Valley?

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona: As we said, it’s tough for plants and animals to survive. But despite its morbid name, it’s actually really beautiful. Death Valley is full of life, unique rock formations, and mysterious natural phenomenon!

Darek: Agreed! Death Valley is so big and diverse, and it’s also full of contrasts. You’re standing in a hot desert and looking up at mountain peaks covered by snow. For people who live in the big city like we do, spending hours without seeing anyone is one of the biggest takeaways.

What did it feel like to be in such a desolate place?

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Darek: It felt like being totally removed from the world, while still being a part of it. It was an amazing feeling. I felt like I was in a totally different world, on a different planet surrounded by a silence I never knew existed. I mean, how often can you hear your own heart?

Ilona: I felt that feeling most intensely when we hiked two hours to the middle of Badwater Basin. When we arrived, there were lots of people in the parking lot, but after 30 minutes of hiking we couldn’t see anyone. We knew that there were a lot of people around us, probably looking down from the mountains into the basin, but they couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them.

What was the most challenging part of your trip?

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona: In most cases on our trips, the most challenging part is the hiking. This time we were hiking up to Telescope Peak and it was an especially challenging trek. The elevation level was challenging—we were 11,000 feet from the base. As we climbed higher, the wind got stronger and the temperature got colder. It was so cold, I guessed the wind chill to be around -30 degrees! At one point I started to wonder if my nose, fingers, and toes would survive or get frostbite! (Spoiler alert: I did get a tiny bit of frostbite on my nose. I looked like Rudolph for few days!)

Darek: Ilona’s right, that hike was the most challenging part. I also want to mention that off-road driving on bumpy roads for hours, even with a good off-road car, is challenging and exhausting.

Did you see any animals or plant life on your hikes?

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Darek: I saw one—I believe its name was Ilona!

Ilona: Ha ha! And I saw the other—a coyote! You might think that nothing lives in Death Valley, but it’s not true. You might spot animals as big as mountain lions and as small as squirrels. We saw a pack of coyotes, but luckily we were in the car. They were not really afraid of us in our big car. They stayed calm while observing their territory. We took some pictures and drove away.

Darek: We also saw a lot of different birds and a valley covered by cactus.

Would photography lovers fall in love with Death Valley?

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona Maslanka

Ilona: Definitely! I love photography and I couldn’t put my camera down. With each step there was something amazing, something unique and extraordinary. Sometimes the light was a challenge, because the sun shines very intensely there, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with basic photography skills.

Darek: On our trips Ilona is more of the photographer, and I am more of a video guy. Death Valley’s really a paradise for both. Try to take pictures around the sunrise or sunset when the sun is not so strong. It’s also a great place to take nighttime pictures, since Death Valley has a dark (black) sky certificate. We saw the Milky Way like we’ve never seen it before!

What part of Death Valley did you find most interesting?


Ilona: The whole park is beautiful, but I’m the biggest fan of the Racetrack playa. It’s a dry field where rocks are moved by wind and leave tracks. The biggest mystery is that nobody has ever seen the rocks actually moving—we can only see the tracks they leave. I could spend hours there.

Darek: I think the Eureka Dunes are really interesting, but we didn’t make it there this time. Still on my bucket list!

What advice would you give to travelers interested in visiting Death Valley?


Ilona: First of all, put this park at the top of your list! Then plan to go there for a week or so. We were there for four days and it wasn’t enough. Also, plan ahead and don’t be afraid to take hikes that are as long as one hour to several days. Whatever you decide to do, be prepared for the worst but expect the best.

Darek: First, don’t go in the summer time, unless you want to hike the highest peaks. Second, rent the best off-road car you can afford. Third, make sure you have full-sized spare tire. Fourth, drive as far as you can, leave the car, and start exploring.

Will you put on your hiking boots and visit Death Valley? Let us know in the comments!


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About The Author

Chenea Gordon

Chenea Gordon is the newest addition to our travel writer team! She’s fun, enthusiastic, and has (surprise!) a deep love for travel. The Bronx native has several years of experience working in the travel industry. She’s passionate about understanding travelers’ needs and interests, as well as creating lasting memories.