A four hour drive east of Los Angeles lies a region with infamous lore, low elevation, and oftentimes insufferable heat. Death Valley National Park meets the expectations of those looking for adventure, beauty and a challenge. And for some visitors, the trip includes something even more foreign and awe-inspiring than the landscape itself. Tucked away in the western corner of the park is Rainbow Canyon, known for its narrow red cliffs.
Dubbed “Star Wars Canyon,” the narrow red rock walls resemble a notable scene from the 1999 Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The fictional planet Tatooine plays host to a drag race of sorts, with aircraft zooming through narrow red canyons. To moviegoers, the scene could have been filmed in the California desert. And for those who make their way to the western edge of California’s Death Valley (Father Crowley Point), the scene might as well have been filmed right there. For not only are visitors rewarded with the breathtaking beauty of the American Southwest, they’ve stumbled upon a favorite flight path for nearby military training exercises.
Military Might and Impressive Speed
And indeed, the scene is out of this world. Military pilots named the canyon Jedi Transition. Nestled between China Lake Naval Weapons Station and Edwards Air Force Base, the landscape provides pilots with premier low-altitude training. Since World War II, Rainbow Canyon has provided the military with an ideal practice site for its pilots. It just happens that the most exciting portion of the pilots’ training route flies right through a national park. The result? Visitors treading through an area as isolated and deserted as there is in the nation are surprised by fighter jets roaring by at almost eye level. And aviation fanatics can get their much-needed dose of military might and truly impressive speed.
Flyovers don’t happen every day, leaving some visitors disappointed after a day of waiting. But for those lucky enough to witness a flyby, they get an experience straight out of science fiction. They get an up-close look at fighter jets flaunting their full capabilities—agility, precision, and most importantly, speed—in a ridiculously narrow and low elevation. Rainbow canyon is a rare pinnacle of natural and manmade wonder. So for all aviation geeks, nature lovers, and those who appreciate all things awesome, here’s another reason to add Death Valley to the bucket list.