Saturday, October 9, 2010 Sunny all day; 55 degrees in the morning to 99 degrees in the afternoon
We packed a lot into our second day in Death Valley, and we saw many beautiful and unusual sights.
Badwater Salt Flats: The Badwater Basin covers a large area between the foothills of the Panamint and Amargosa Mountains. At 282 feet below sea level, this area is the lowest in the US. A sign on the side of the mountain indicates where sea level is in relationship to the salt flats. This area is also hottest spot in the US and the wettest in Death Valley. Through repeated evaporation of salts from mountain drain-offs and spring-fed ground water, the soil here is pure white. Walking on the path, the salt crunches, and the ground gives beneath your feet.
Natural Bridge: We hiked to Natural Bridge formed by erosion from flash floods as they roared through the narrow canyon.
Devil's Golf Course: This is a "forbidding landscape created by salt and erosion on a lake bed that dried up about 2,000 years ago. The result are spikes, pits, craters, and jagged edges stained brown. In between are ragged, salty white circles."
Artist Drive: Over the years mineral deposits have created brilliant swaths of color across the low, rocky hills. The oranges, reds, blues, pink, and green patches look like confectioner's sugar sprinkled on the surfaces of the rocks. Gorgeous. And again, for our Star Wars family members, this area served as a location for the original Star Wars movie.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center: The information here discussed the geological formation of the features in Death Valley and the indigenous plants and animals which live in this harsh environment. Some panels told about the many different peoples who have inhabited this area for historically brief periods of time, and how they moved on when they could no longer get sustenance from the land. Other displays told of the Gold Rush "49ers" who passed through the valley on their way to California and the difficulties they faced trying to survive the transit. Lastly, the discovery and mining of borax is described. In theater the film gave an excellent overview of Death Valley.
Harmony Borax Works: From 1883-1888 more than 20 million pounds of "white gold," borax, was mined, concentrated, and shipped. Interpretive signs led past the ruins of the borax refinery and some of the outlying buildings. The famous 20-mule teams hauled huge wagons loaded with 36 tons of borax across the desert to Mojave. Some of those wagons were on display at this site.
Zabriskie Point: "Wildly eroded and vibrantly colored, this area is the Badlands of the Death Valley..... The clay, sandstone, and siltstone formations, once level, have been eroded into the chaotic yet strangely beautiful landscape we see today."
Dante's View: This 5,475 foot point looks out over the floor of Death Valley to the Panamint Mountains in the west. Badwater Salt Flats, Artist Palette, and Furnace Creek all can be seen from here. It is the best place to view the expanse, diversity, and beauty of Death Valley.
Rhyolite: Fittingly, we arrived at this ghost town just as the sun was setting. The ruins of this mining town, its banks, school, mercantile, railway station, miners' union hall---were eerie in the darkening shadows. Also at the entrance to the town were various "strange" art works: The Last Supper portrayed by fiberglass ghost-shaped figures, a large mosaic sofa, a circular rock maze, wooden free forms of a miner and a bird, and a house made out of bottles.
Incidentals: Phil was in mechanic mode this afternoon at Dante's View. There is a 15% grade leading to the top, and two cars rented by foreign tourists reacted badly to the climb. Phil helped the Dutch couples figure out that their car just needed to cool down, and he helped the Italian couple get their vapor-locked vehicle running again. Since this area is beyond cell phone range and mechanics are outside of the park, all of them could have been stranded indefinitely.
We saw our first animals in Death Valley, a tarantula and two tiny squirrels, no more than two inches from nose to rump.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Beatty (Bay-tee), NV, NV 374W to CA 190S to Badwater and Dante's View and back to Beatty
TOTAL MILEAGE TO DATE: 8,473 miles