While driving into Death Valley National Park, our first stop was Father Crowley Vista at Rainbow Canyon, and while the view was incredible, the sun was setting, Rainbow canyon was dark, and much of the Panamint Valley below was shaded.
Needless to say, after fueling up in Stovepipe Wells, we decided to drive all the way back to the scenic viewpoint the next morning and begin our Death Valley road trip activities with the items farthest from our hotel in Furnace Creek — Father Crowley Vista and Rainbow Canyon, Darwin Falls, Panamint Springs, and the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns.
Father Crowley Vista
At about 4,500 feet elevation, Father Crowley Vista has two spectacular viewpoints:
- Just beside the parking area, over the railing, dark lava flows and volcanic cinders give way to the colorful stripes of Rainbow Canyon, which are a striking, jagged red in the sunlight.
- A dirt road leaves east from the parking area and travels about a half mile to a spectacular overlook of northern Panamint Valley.
The dirt road begs to be explored. On our first visit to the vista point, we saw a few people walking back from the lookout and began to walk ourselves, but the sun was setting and we didn’t want to be out there at dark. Luckily, when we turned around the sign by the road was for vehicles, so we took our chances and drove out to the lookout. Thankfully when we arrived, a few jeeps were parked out there, so we knew that it was okay to drive on the road.
The next morning, we drove out to the point again and were treated with an incredible sunny view of the Panamint Valley.
This Death Valley vista point is named after Father John Crowley, The Desert Padre (1891-1940), a Catholic priest who served in the desert area in the 1920s-1930s. It sits at an elevation of approximately 4,280 feet.
Sitting along the western edge of Death Valley National Park, Rainbow Canyon connects Owens Valley in the west and Panamint Valley in the east, and drains the west slope of the Santa Rosa Hills and the east slope of the Inyo Mountains into the Panamint Valley.
Rainbow canyon was cut from basalt lava flows and lapilli beds of the Darwin Hills volcanoes. Formations of granite and marble can be seen below the lava in the deepest parts of the canyon and other rock is exposed, giving the canyon walls of reds, gray, and pink that are similar to the fictional Star Wars planet Tatooine. As a result, the canyon is nicknamed Star Wars Canyon.
In fact, military training flights have used Rainbow Canyon since World War II. Planes travel as low as 200 feet above the canyon floor at speeds of 200-300 miles per hour. If you’re at the lookout when the planes fly through, you’ll be close enough to actually see the pilot’s facial expressions, and sometimes they even wave or give you a thumbs up!
Know Before You Go
- Father Crowley Vista and Rainbow Canyon are located on CA-190, west of Panamint Springs, along the western edge of Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, California approximately 260 miles west of Las Vegas and 160 miles north of Los Angeles.
- There is a vault toilet in the paved parking area.
- While some people choose to walk out to the viewpoint, you can drive on the dirt road that leaves from the parking area, saving yourself a mile of walking, which is awesome if you’ve already been doing a lot of hiking in Death Valley!