Death Valley is quite simply stunning.
that some of the landscapes are breathtaking, well this place tops them all. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s an utterly unique place which is steeped in ancient history and mystery. I do hope the pictures can do most of the talking.
Here’s some stuff we’ve learned about the place:
– Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth. In 1913 it recorded a temperature of 56 degrees. The winter gets to an average of 18 degrees so not too hot!
– It gets this hot because of its unique landscape and the lack of cloud cover. The mountains which surround it prevent the air below cooling so the hot air gets trapped in the valley. You can go from the valley bottom (Badwater Basin) where it usually hits 40 degrees in the summer months, to the mountain tops, within minutes in the car, where it rarely gets above freezing
– It gets 2 inches of rain in a good year
– Badwater Basin is where the hottest temperature was recorded and its about 280 feet below sea level
– Rain doesn’t tend to reach it because it’s surrounded with numerous mountain ranges (Sierra Nevada & The Black Mountains)
– The Valley used to contain a lake over 100 miles long
– It’s the largest National Park in the US spanning an astonishing 3.3 million acres
– There are a number of animals which call the place home. Rare mountain goats, snakes, pup fish to name just a few
– Its named Death Valley as many explorers used to die whilst trying to navigate it
We set off from Ridgecrest on the 2 hour drive to Death Valley. Long straight ‘lumpy’ roads through endless straights of desert mixed with some steep mountain ridge carriageways took you through a multitude of elevations. But the scenery continued to be brilliant.
Just before entering the National Park we took a detour off the main highway to a ghost town called Ballarat. All around the Park are old mines. They estimate there are 10,000 disused mine shafts in the Park. Ballarat is an old mining town which has just been pretty much left. When we got there, there were a couple of new looking RVs and two dodgey looking guys just hanging about the place. As we didn’t look welcome we quickly took a couple of snaps and left.
A little further (about 40 miles or so) up the road are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This is about 2 square miles of sand dunes just plonked in the middle of nowhere. They’re not too sure how the sand got there, but it’s more than likely down to the erosion of rock when the place used to be filled with water. We got out the car and had a walk up some of the dunes. Milly also decided that she’d like to roll down one and got sand everywhere. I was not up for that given the likelihood of snakes hiding in the place.
Central to Death Valley is a visitor centre, couple of shops and – rather randomly – a golf resort. This is all quite weird because you can drive for miles upon miles upon miles and see not a living soul, then bam, a golf course. It’s actually amazing they can find any water to supply the place. They must pump it for miles. We nipped into the visitors centre and had a look around (learning all the facts mentioned above) and then grabbed some lunch from the shop before heading off to see the Park’s other sights.
We took the 17 mile drive to Badwater Basin. As mentioned above this place is the lowest place in the US at 280 feet below sea level. It used to be part of the huge Manly Lake but due to the heat which penetrates into the place, the Lake has long since dried up and left behind tons of salt deposits. We walked about a mile or so into the old lake basin and just admired the view as we walked over the salty terra firma, listening to it crack beneath our feet. We got so dry during the walk because the air is so dry – It’s not humid at all.
Driving back up north stopped just off road at a place called Natural Bridge. You have to understand that Manly Lake used to be a vast lake which was supplied by water from the mountains. All around the Valley is canyons which are former tributaries to the lake. Huge scars in the mountin side which you can walk up. The Natural Bridge is the result of millions of years of fast rushing water carving into the hillside which has created, well, a natural bridge. Take a look for yourself:
All along the canyon, it’s sides are carved in the memories of the water that used to flow through it. Extinct waterfalls are everywhere you look and rock overhangs you due to the way the current has worn down the lower parts of the stone.
We headed back down the canyon and up another more colourful canyon. Rather than the orange, reddy rock of the Natural Bridge Canyon, this one was hosted a number of colourful rock arrangements and at its head was an enormous red cliff called Red Cathederal.
The time was pressing on by this point and we’d had ideas of making our way to a high up view point for sunset; Dante’s View. About 5000 foot up, there was a plateau on the east side of the valley which looked out over Badwater Basin and onto the overlooking snowy mountains (we drove up, not walking this one). Despite it now being -1 degrees, the views we just unbelievable.