The nine things you must do in Death Valley National Park, California

THE ONE LOOKOUT

Dante's View has a true "woah!" factor. From the top of the mountain ridge, 1669 metres up, Badwater Basin's dazzling salt deposit scars unfurl below, flanked by yet more mountains on the other side. The Basin is the lowest point in North America, 86 metres below sea level, and it holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded – an outrageous 56.7 degrees in July 1913. But from Dante's View, it can be 16 degrees cooler than in the twinkling, eerie depression below.

THE ONE DRIVE

Artists Drive, a one way, 17.5-kilometre loop near the Badwater Basin, is often cut through the rock, making the road a mini-canyon floor. The bizarre rock formations come thick and fast, but it's the colours that are as strange as the shapes. The section known as Artists Palette is the zenith of the odd colouration caused by minerals – it's a riot of greens, pinks, teals and purples.

THE ONE GHOST TOWN

On the Nevada side of the Death Valley National Park, Rhyolite is a highly photogenic ghost town, where abandoned buildings pose in front of vegetation-free mountains. To make it even stranger, a series of art installations have been installed there – including a group of white ghostly statues and a rusty 2D figure of what appears to be a cowboy with his pet penguin.

THE ONE LANDSCAPE

Zabriskie Point, a few kilometres up the road from Dante's View, offers something completely different. Here, the earth breaks into strange yellow folds that look like gnarled hands. Take it all as one, and it looks as though a giant blancmange has been dropped down into the desert. The strange shapes and milky-yellow colourations come from the sediments of a lake that dried up 5 million years ago.

THE ONE HOTEL

The accommodation in Furnace Creek has been recently rebranded under the 'Oasis at Death Valley' banner, but it's the refurbished, Spanish Mission-style Inn at Death Valley that's more than a little special. Mosaic-tiled bathrooms, dark wood ceiling fans, grandfather clocks and a glam pool backed by palm trees are all ingredients adding to the sense of carefully updated timewarp splendour. Doubles cost from US$357. See oasisatdeathvalley.com

THE ONE MEAL

Dining options are thin on the ground, but the Inn Dining Room in Furnace Creek is something of a treat. The richly decorated, atmospheric room serves up hearty dishes using desert ingredients such as cacti and dates from the on-site palm grove.

THE ONE MOUNTAIN

Death Valley is most easily approached from Las Vegas, but the twisting, turning drive in the other direction over several mountain ranges towards the snowy peaks of California's Sierra Nevada is unforgettable. The big boy here is Mount Whitney – 4421 metres high, and the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous US states. The twisting, mountainside-hugging road up to Whitney Portal climbs 2552 metres of it, with alpine lakes and hiking trailheads at the road's end.

THE ONE MUSEUM

The western gateway to Death Valley, Lone Pine, has long been a filming base for cowboy films. The Museum of Western Film History is full of memorabilia – movie posters, stage coaches, director's chairs – but the real eye-opener is learning just how many hundreds of westerns were churned out in the '50s and '60s. For non-Stetson lovers, there's a small section on other films shot in these parts, including Gladiator and Return of the Jedi. See museumofwesternfilmhistory.org

ONE MORE THING

Want to see the boldest/ most foolhardy runners on earth? Well, turn up in mid-July, when Furnace Creek lives up to its name, and the temperatures are pretty much guaranteed to be in the mid-40s. This is when the Badwater 135 takes place – a 217 kilometre ultra marathon from Badwater Basin to Whitney Portal. It's not just the heat that's savage – there are three mountain ranges to traverse along the way, with a cumulative ascent of 4450 metres. See badwater.com

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David Whitley was a guest of Visit California. See visitcalifornia.com

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