Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Death Valley and Beyond (Certainly Not Below)

Coming into Las Vegas over Red Rocks Canyon.

Anne and I just got back from a nine day adventure to Las Vegas. There’s plenty to do in Vegas—casinos, golf, eating. We chose to spend three of our days driving to and staying in Death Valley National Park, and there’s plenty to do there as well. Let me tell you and show you some of the highlights (or should they be called “lowlights”?) of one of America’s grand national parks.
First, I'll provide a little description of Death Valley, the hottest place on earth with a recorded high of 134º F (July 13, 1913) and an average daily July high of 115º--it was 85º when we got there. Choose carefully when you visit. The valley is bordered by the Great Basin area, various mountain ranges to the west (Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet, is 85 miles away), and the Mojave Desert. It’s an area of salt flats, sand dunes, and badlands. It’s been home to several groups of native peoples and is currently home to the Timbisha tribe (formerly known as Shoshone). The valley was declared a National Monument in 1933 and became a National Park in 1994, the largest in the park system. 
A treat for us is a stop for breakfast at Mom’s Diner in Pahrump, NV, about an hour from our Worldmark timeshare on south Las Vegas Blvd. 

Anne has a tuna melt and I have burger steak and eggs.

This diner is funky fun and serves up great home cooked food. It’s so friendly and good that we planned our route home to include lunch at Mom’s after our time in the Valley. 
Desert scene outside the park.

Going towards the park from Death Valley Junction.

Cyclists wave as I'm self-paying at the southeast entrance to Death Valley National Park. They were a little sad when I told them they had 18 miles to go to reach the junction.

The great desert scenery starts before you get into the actual national park, but within the park boundaries our first adventure was Twenty Mule Team Canyon, a 2.7 mile one-way loop road through very impressive badlands. 
Near the entrance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon.

The next view point is the most famous in the park; Zimbriskie’s Point, has views of the Badwater Salt Flats as well as towards the  Furnace Creek oasis of green. 

The ancient rock dunes at the point are spectacular both at sunrise and sunset. Next on our way to the lowest point in America was a stop at the Devil’s Golf Course, an intriguing draw for golfers. 

You certainly don't want to fall on this golf course...ouch!

This large expanse of rock salt eroded by wind and rain, though, is a course “only the Devil could play.” We finally arrived at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats can flood when it (infrequently) rains and there is a spring which provides a little running water most of the time—water so saline that it deserves the name “Badwater.” 

This is the view of the valley and salt flats from just south of Badwater.

Here you can walk out quite a ways onto the salt flats, but a couple of hundred yards is probably enough. Take a look back at and above the parking area to see the “Sea Level” sign high on the mountain.  
From the low point of the trip we head back up towards Furnace Creek with a side trip to drive the Artist’s Drive, a nine mile one-way loop road through varied multi-hued sedimentary and volcanic rock formations. 

I hired a professional model for this shoot.

Me and my shadow...and the Artist's Palette.

Serious photography happens all throughout the valley.

The drive, especially with a stop at the Artist’s Palette, is best in afternoon light. From Artist’s Drive we found some of the very sparse green vegetation in the valley at Furnace Creek Golf Course (a course you don’t have to be the Devil to play). 

Ignore the boots; Anne forgot her tennies this day.

The valley heading north from Furnace Creek.

This is the lowest golf course in the world at 190 feet below sea level. The course is kept so lush that there are spots of mud to be avoided. We played several other courses in the Las Vegas area, including Boulder City, Wildhorse, and Revere Concord. A final stop, as we headed towards our lodgings for two nights at Stovepipe Wells Hotel in the north part of the valley, was at Salt Creek, a small stream that is home to the much endangered and rare pupfish (I did see one). 

The half-mile boardwalk loop through pickleweed and other vegetation (staying on the boardwalk helps maintain the fragile desert environment) is especially lovely in the late afternoon. 

Both nights of our stay in the valley at Stovepipe Wells we ventured out in the dark of evening for skywatching. The park has been designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Views are especially spectacular from the north end of the valley. It had been years since I had seen the Milky Way, our glaaxy, in all its true glory—no photos, but unbelievable visual memories. 

Please, let me hear from you about photos you particularly like.

NEXT: A continuation of our exploration of the beauty of Death Valley and a visit to Lake Mead National Recreation Area and to the Valley of Fire State Park.