Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Death Valley National Park: Behind the extremes

The Mesquite Sand Dunes at Stovepipe Wells Village, Death Valley NP, CA
Death Valley.....does it really describe its name? Or does it show the other beauty of life we oftentimes neglect to see?
white desert holly on black volcanic sand with the naturally painted badlands, Death Valley NP
Behind the extremes: hottest in the summer, lowest point and driest, Death Valley National Park offers unparalleled beauty and diversity of a desert. It is a geological wonderland of exposed multilayered colored rocks and layers of the earth.
Artists' Drive, Death Valley NP
Amidst scarce vegetation, the beauty of Death Valley does not speak of its name, but a deep peacefulness and solitude. Its contrasting topography, diverse geology and rugged beauty so immense, so peaceful, and so different are really something to see.
What I will be sharing here are some of our experiences that hopefully will help in making your visit to Death Valley a very memorable one:
I. Best time to visit - November to April. Is Death Valley really the hottest place on Earth? Not when you visit during the cooler days. We visited Death Valley late November, the high was in the 60s and the low was below freezing. For the three times we were in Death Valley, I was always glad to leave the park filled with hopes; hopes for a promise of a beautiful life after passing the harshest tests of time.
Father Crowley Point, Death Valley NP. A great resting place of the spirit.…..
II. Closest Big City: Though most of Death Valley is in California, the closest city is Las Vegas, 2 hours away. If you are in las Vegas for a vacation, you can take your much needed las vegas city breaks at Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra, making your las vegas experience a vacation of a lifetime.
III. Places We Experienced:
1. Badwater Basin, @ Badwater Road
Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin, Lowest Point in North America
2. Artist's Palette on Artist's Drive, accessed through Badwater Road.
" The colors in Artist's Palette resulted from the oxidation of different metals. Red, pink and yellow are from iron salts, green is from decomposing tuffed-derived mica, and manganese produces the purple color. Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area's most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and much volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration are also responsible for the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation. " - source:
3. Devil's Golf Course, still along Badwater Road.
The Devil's Golf Course is still part of the Badwater Basin or the salt pan. However, it has rougher features because the brief rainstorms carved through the salt deposits.
4. Golden Canyon - still accessed from Badwater Road.
Hiking @ Golden Canyon
Golden Canyon trail is an easy 2-mile roundtrip hike with gradual slope to the colorful badlands.
However, if you have ample time and up for some physical fitness, you can extend your hike up to Zabriskie Point. There are also plenty of narrow slot-like canyon trails that we climbed within the Golden Canyon. It is interesting to see the changing of colors of the rocks here.
5. Zabriskie Point-
Zabriskie Point
Hikers @ Zabriskie Badlands
The Zabriskie Point is part of the Amargosa Chaos, a complexly faulted and folded region. Even without formal trail, it is possible to climb up and enjoy these colorful mudhills and variegated dunes.
6. Harmony Borax Works - also along Badwater Road.
Some of the compounds deposited in the salt pan of the Badwater Basin include borate minerals such as borax. Borax is used in the manufacture of a variety of products such as soaps, pharmaceuticals, herbicides and even rocket fuels. Part of the history of Death Valley is the Borax Works, founded in 1881. The famed 20- mule teams were charged with the task of hauling borax 165 miles to Mojave, California. Today, mining in Death Valley proper has been stopped, but borates are still mined throughout the region.
6. Mesquite Sand Dunes
The beauty of the Mesquite Sand Dunes is the contrast between the soft and alluring curves of the dunes and the sharp and rocky features of the surrounding mountains .
This is probably the place in Death Valley where we stayed the longest time, since once in the dune, it is hard to resist the temptation to play with the soft burrowing sand and to be on top of the tallest Mesquite Sand Dune.
7. Ubehebe Crater, Northern Region
Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater located in the Northern region of Death Valley NP. The crater is about half a mile in diameter and about 500 ft deep. Unlike most of the geologic features of Death Valley, the age of this crater is not measured in millions but only thousands of years. Ubehebe crater is about 2,000 years old only. Rising magma- hot, molten rock- turned groundwater into steam. Intense steam pressure built until the superheated combination of molten rock and steam exploded, creating a crater like Ubehebe. There are many volcanic craters around this area, but Ubehebe is the largest.
One can walk around the crater, or hike to the well formed Little Hebe crater,
or go down 500 ft to the bottom of the crater.
8. Mosaic Canyon, 2 miles west of Stovepipe Village
up the slippery polished walls of a tilted strata in Mosaic Canyon
Hiking Mosaic Canyon, where polished walls of marble mix with colorful mosaic patches of agglomerated fragments, felt like walking into a museum.
marbled wall canyons
Inside the canyon, one experiences again the powerful force of flowing water that eroded massive amounts of marbled rocks and debris from the mountains. Mosaic Canyon is an easy 2 to 4 miles round trip hike, depending on how much one would want to see. Some sections of the canyon require scrambling up a slippery polished rock. It is also difficult to resist the temptation to scramble up some tilted walls. Aside from marble, there are different types of rocks in the walls of the canyon that are very interesting to see.
9. Charcoal Kilns in Wildrose Canyon
The Charcoal Kilns were built in 1867 to reduce the local Pinon Pines and Juniper trees to charcoal by a process of slow controlled burning. The charcoal was then used to smelt gold and lead ore in the local mines. However, after just a few years of use, they were abandoned, one of the reason behind the longevity of these kilns.
10. Father Crowley Point, Panamint Valley
This very scenic viewpoint provides a great resting place for the tired travelers entering Death Valley National Park from the West. At the viewpoint, you can rest your eyes on the panoramic views of the northern end of Panamint Valley in Death Valley National Park. This place is named after Father John Crowley, the Padre of the Desert, 1891- 1940. From the snowy heights of the Sierras beyond the deep shadows of Death Valley, Father John Crowley, beloved and trusted by people of all faiths, led people toward life's wider horizons.
11. Darwin Falls
Darwin Falls
What is a waterfall doing in the driest place on Earth? Please click here to go to my previous post on 

In summary, the beauty of Death Valley is not so much on what is obvious, but what lies hidden. In Death Valley, one has to get on their feet and keep going to capture a stunning memory. Driving CA Higway 190, one is greeted with the desert's vast emptiness as far as one's eyes can see,
and of the mysterious alternating layers of mountains across a flat colorfull valley.
The drive, at first was clearly not as breath-taking and as scenic as other places I've been. Some who simply saw Death Valley from the sides of the road probably wondered what is so special with this place that earned it the status of a National Park, and even considered one of the top ten wonders of the West. But leaving your car behind, getting on your feet to explore what is hidden, and then putting these jewel-like pieces of Death Valley together, suddenly you realize Death Valley is clearly a geological wonderland must see. You come to realize that Earth does not always have to be clothed with green and lush vegetation to be considered pretty. It is a beauty that feels like out of this world or out of this planet. Almost surrounded by mountains, few places are as foreboding or as beautiful as Death Valley National Park. I hope you come and see the surreal beauty that is formed by this harsh and unforgiving land.
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  1. "I was glad to leave the park filled with hopes, hopes for a promise of a beautiful life after passing the harshests tests of time." ~ you never fail to inspire Beth.

    this is a very informative post. you very well deserved the reward. *winks*

  2. So many wonderful places I haven't explored yet. Thanks for the photos and explanations. It's nice to have a person in the photos to see how enormous the place is.

  3. Wow, what an amazing place. It is a place I am not sure of I would ever see in person. So I really enjoyed your wonderful photos.

  4. Death Valley sounds like an incredible place to explore! You've covered so many fantastic parts of it with wonderful photos! Just gorgeous, Betchai!

  5. Death Valley is so fascinating. I have always wanted to visit there.

  6. breath-taking Betchai and I am actually lost for words....

  7. It sure is a geological wonderland with surprising colors and textures! I didn't realize there was so much to see at Death Valley. Thanks for the tour!

  8. Great picture, when we were in Death Valey, we were a bit afraid of the heat and that our car would break down.


  9. Ironically this Death Valley looks really beautiful. Haha :D

  10. I have trouble even imagining being at such a place. It must be quite an experience.

  11. Jaime Leon RodriguezMarch 22, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    Mystical place !!!

  12. wow!! I very much enjoyed these pictures and this information. I would love to visit Death Valley.
    thank you for this post!

  13. Before I visited Death Valley, I did not know what to expect. When I arrived, it was blue bliss. Nature at its best.

    Your photos are great, make people want to come or visit again.

  14. It looks so other worldly! But it sure is very beautiful too. Thanks for sharing the lovely pics and the wonderful information.
    Hope you have a lovely weekend:)

  15. What a beautiful landscape couples with the creativity of your work.

  16. I have to see this, I remember passing this area in one of our trips and told Jeff we will come back to see the Death Valley. I will make sure to find this blog again before out trip - I need all these informations !

    Thanks for sharing - awesome shots !!!


  17. do i need to be fit in order to hike through this paradise?
    i like the chemical explanation surrounding artist's palette

  18. Beautiful and inspiring tour of Death Valley. It's wonderful when people stop to really explore and appreciate the beauty of such a place.

  19. You know Betchai, I have never been to death valley and your shot certainly entices me to do so. It is gorgeous.

  20. One of my favorite color combinations- blue and brown.

  21. I've never been here yet. I am planning to when I retire. Too late then huh?

  22. awesome&so detailed presentation, I love it! if I once made it to your part of the world I will print few of your blog entries as a guide:-))) happy new week!