January, 2016 – My first trip down Badwater Road was for the wildflowers (see “Desert in Bloom” page). But I could tell there was a lot more to see along and off the road, so I had to return. See Death Valley Map for locations.
That’s a van on the road alongside the mountain – gives a little perspective of how massive these mountains are.
And what’s not huge is incredibly interesting in different texture and color combinations.
Aren’t the patterns, shadows and different shades amazing?
Devil’s Golf Course: I didn’t drive all the way down this road, but according to NPS: Immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires. So incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”
So here you’re getting ready to walk out onto the salt flats at 282 feet below sea level.
Info sign: Water is rare and precious in Death Valley. Imagine the disappointment when a surveyor mapping this area could not get his mule to drink from this pool. He wrote on his map that the spring had “bad water,” and the name stuck. Badwater Pool is not poisonous just salty. Ancient water fills this pool year-round. The runoff seeped into porous limestone bedrock and began a long underground flow through a regional aquifer. It emerges here at Badwater…salts dissolve from old deposits and flow to the surface, making the spring water “bad.”
Across the road from that walk are these mountains where the blue arrow points to the sign that indicates where sea level is. It’s a little weird having to crane your neck up to see sea level! Death Valley is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, but here getting a bird’s-eye viewpoint of sea level that puts it all in perspective.
Info sign: Sea level is the average elevation of the world’s earth surface and is the standard from which all other elevations are measured. 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.
Salt flats in Badwater Basin – Covers nearly 200 square miles, among the largest protected salt flats in the world.
When returning from the other direction and seeing the salt flats from this perspective shows how massive they are. Those three little dark blips you can barely see are people walking on the area you’re allowed on.
Info sign: How Hot Is It?
“It was so hot that swallows in full flight fell to the earth dead and when I went out to read the thermometer with a wet Turkish towel on my head, it was dry before I returned.”
Oscar Denton, caretaker of what is now the Furnace Creek Ranch on the record hot day of 134 degrees F in July 1913.
Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed a blistering 120 degrees F and nights may fail to cool below 100 degrees F.
The dramatic landscape around you helps generate these extremes. In the low valley bottom, the desert sun heats the air. The valley’s steep mountain walls trap rising hot air and recirculates it down to the basin for further heating. This cycle leads to sizzling temperatures.
Death Valley is also the driest place in North America, with an average rainfall of less than 2″ a year on the valley floor. The surrounding mountains and the Sierra Nevada to the west capture moisture from passing storms before it reaches the valley, creating a “rain shadow.” Only the occasional summer thunderstorm or the most powerful winter storm brings rain to the valley.
“Hey mistah, throw me something!”
But no matter how great everything else was, I think this guy was the coolest sight I saw that day. I caught a glimpse of him alongside the road and I couldn’t believe he just stood there and didn’t move when I pulled over. I started taking pictures and wondered if he was used to being fed or what the deal was. No way would I feed him anything – I’ve been to too many national parks and know that results in more harm than good to the animals. I would have given him water, but I was too afraid to get out of the car. Later, on the Death Valley Facebook page, I saw them talking about how people frequently feed them from the cars, so they’ve gotten used to it, so I guess that’s what he was expecting. So it sounds like these encounters are not as rare as I thought – and here I figured I had some sort of spiritual encounter! 😉 Well, regardless, I still consider the day here spiritually significant – I sure felt blessed!
All Malia’s Miles Death Valley pages: