A Travellerspoint blog

Death Valley

January 27-28

Where do we even start with this monolithic, yet stunningly picturesque valley. A friend of ours who recently visited the Grand Canyon said she failed to have the adjectives to describe what she had seen with her eyes. Death Valley could easily be described in the same way; the human eye just cannot take in the expanse of its size, let alone its beauty or colours.

As we entered the valley we weren’t prepared for what we were going to see. As we left snowcapped peaks behind us, we expected to see a desert floor and very little else. Initially we were deflated because as we drove higher and higher in altitude the visibility became less and less. The sun appeared to sink lower in the sky and the light of day drained away. At some points at the highest of elevations, all we saw were the bonnet of the car and thick, dense clouds and barely perceptible road in front of us. This combined with the name of Death Valley only added to the eeriness we were feeling.

As we rounded each corner, we got glimpses of what we imagine the moon’s surface might look and then after another corner, perhaps something someone of enormous stature had sculpted with his bare hands from clay. After yet another turn, we may have even glimpsed what looked like an area mined by the most enormous mining vehicles one could imagine.

As we rounded one of the last corners, both Nick and I commented on how unusual the sky before us looked with what appeared to be dots of dark clouds. On further inspection we soon realized we were looking at the bottom of floor of Death Valley. The clouds drained away, giving way to dusky, subdued colours and a landscape that only the naked eye can capture. It is a pantheon or cathedral of mountains, valley floor and an amazing array of colours.

Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed a blistering 49 degrees and nights may fail to cool below 38. We are told that it is the dramatic landscape around us that helps generate these extremes. In the low valley bottom, the desert sun heats the air and the valley’s steep mountain walls trap rising hot air and recirculates it down to the basin for further heating.

Tawny dunes smoothly rise nearly 100 feet from Mesquite Flat. Here we take a walk through the sand dunes midmorning where you can see the light accentuate the ripples and patterns in the dunes. What is unusual about the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is they are in one isolated spot just outside Stovepipe Wells.

Golden Canyon has some of the most stunning landscape. The one-mile trek up Golden Canyon is a beautiful but easy hike. The sides of the canyon are made up of red mudstone and colorful mosaic conglomerates. Occasional broken pavement offers a reminder that there was once a road through this canyon until a rainstorm washed it out in 1976. We followed the main wash uphill toward the prominent landmark aptly named the Red Cathedral and enjoyed a leisurely stroll back down to the car to continue on our journey.

The Artist’s Drive was one of my favourites in Death Valley. It is a scenic loop drive through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills. Artist’s Palette is especially photogenic in the late afternoon light, but from what we have seen, they are beautiful at any time of the day and literally look like someone has opened up tins of powdered paint, dipped their hands in, pulled out a fist full of hue and tossed it over the landscape. The various mineral pigments have coloured the volcanic deposits. Iron salts produce the reds, pinks and yellow and decomposing mica causes the green, whilst the manganese supplies the purple.

Our next leg stretch is Badwater Basin. The lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats. At Badwater on the cliff behind you, you can find the sign that marks sea level. Sea level is the average elevation of the world’s ocean surface and is the standards from which all other elevations are measured. At the lowest point of the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley belongs to a world-wide geographic rogue’s gallery, whose members share defining features, that is: to have exposed land below sea level, an extremely dry climate is necessary. In wet climates, low places fill with water and overflow to the sea. A dry climate evaporates water, leaving behind salt flats or briny lakes. Like most of these locations, Death Valley was not created by a river’s erosion. Movements in the earth’s crust have dropped it to such great depths.

The Devil’s Golf Course is an immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires in this forbidding landscape. So incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.” Delicate salt formations are hidden among the harsh and rigid spires. Deposited by ancient salt lakes and shaped by winds and rain, the crystals are forever changing. Listen carefully! On a warm day you may hear a metallic cracking sound as the salt pinnacles expand and contract.

When I asked Alyssa what her favorite part of Death Valley was, without hesitation she said ‘the coyote’. As if the two day visit to Death Valley couldn’t get any better: as we are departing the valley and leaving it’s striking landscape behind us, a coyote is seen meandering down the highway. To either welcome us or to bid us adieu from Death Valley, this curious coyote thought he might stop us in the middle of the highway and remind us of where we have just been and what we have seen.

After leaving one of the most stark, driest and uninhabited places in the world a mere 2 hours later we arrived in Las Vegas.

Posted by V3USA 11:24

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Comments

Awesome, guys! Artists' pallette looks cool, bit like some of the aussie earth, but more colours. Feel like I've seen it now - the video thing is a good way to share it ?

by Susanne & David

stunning (and Qld booted out Cambell, btw)

by vyrene

Amazing!

by Tracey Bobeldyk

The Artist's palette was amazing. I doubt the photos do justice to how beautiful it was.

by V3USA

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