Death Valley
Stovepipe Wells area
Mesquite Sand Dunes - It's just a few short steps from the road to these fantastic sand dunes. You can spend hours jumping, sliding and rolling down the dunes, tossing fine white sand in the air, or tracing lines in the cracked white mud. Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the sand. Fun for everyone, from the babies in backpacks to teenagers, who can hike to the biggest "star dune."
Go early in the morning and look for animal tracks in the fine sand or imprinted in the mud flats. (Desert animals typically spend their nights roaming around, and shelter in shade or underground burrows during the heat of the day.) Around mesquite bushes you'll typically see tracks of lizards, kangaroo rats, snakes, roadrunners, kit foxes, or coyotes.
Tip: Be sure to bring plenty of water with you when you go out on the dunes.
Mosaic Canyon - One of our favorite hikes in Death Valley, it's an easily accessible trail, especially good for toddlers. The trail is lined with wavy marble rock layers, alternating with bumpy rocks, just kid height, so reach out and touch the rocks all you like as you walk by. At .5 mile, the canyon opens out, this is a good turn around point for little kids.
Stovepipe Wells Village - At the village is a general store (pick up ice creams in the freezer), picnic tables, ranger kiosk (get maps and other brochures about Death Valley).
Salt Creek Nature Trail - If you come in winter or spring, stop off at Salt Creek to look for the pupfish . These tiny silvery blue fish, less than two inches long, are a rarity. Thousands of years ago, when the Ice Age lake in Death Valley dried up, the water became salty and many species of fish died off. Not the pupfish. They adapted to the saltier water and extreme temperatures.
The nature trail follows a boardwalk along Salt Creek. The best time to see the pupfish is March and April - by summer, the pools have dried up. Last time we visited in April, the pupfish were having a great time, zipping around the creek, and playing like puppies (which is why they're named pupfish, by the way).
In winter the creek continues to flow, but the pupfish are hard to spot (they stick to the deepest pools near the permanent spring, not that close to the boardwalk).