02 April 2011

Death Valley

Death Valley from Dante's Point

I've always wanted to see Death Valley, a national park in the Southern US renowned for its lack of water and for nearly killing a group of lost travelers in the 1800s. Today, the park is well visited, particularly in the Spring when the flowers are blooming.

Urmi and I visited the park last week, but we had the misfortune to arrive during a storm with near hurricane force winds, lots of cold weather, and more. We visited many of the major landmarks: Badwater Basin (the lowest place on North America), Devil's Golf Course, and more. Most of the landmarks in Death Valley have similarly ominous names (Furnace Creek, for example, is famous for frequently being among the hottest places in the world), showcasing Death Valley's famous inhospitality. The scenery, though, creates a spectacularly barren landscape of brightly colored rock, salt fields, and other bizarre sights.

Mesquite Sand Dunes, our first stop in Death Valley, are a set of windswept sand dunes several hundred feet high. This picture shows one of the largest dunes, with the eastern Death Valley mountains in the background. This is something of an iconic shot of the sand dunes.

This picture is surreal once you understand the context. In the foreground lies the Badwater Basin salt flats. Badwater Basin is the lowest location in North America, 282 feet below sea level, and is composed of a several inch thick layer of pure salt. In the background is the tallest mountain in Death Valley, Telescope Peak, at 11,043 feet tall. I would suggest that the hikers provide a sense of scale, but they really don't. Telescope Peak is visible from nearly everywhere in Death Valley. Badwater basin is named as such because water from the nearby springs is salt water, and is not drinkable.

One of our stops in Death Valley took us to the aptly named Devil's Golfcourse, a field of razor sharp salt crystals and rock. Like the Badwater Basin, Devil's Golfcourse is mostly composed of salt, but unlike Badwater, the underlying substance is rock (Badwater is mostly fairly soft soil). The fields were named because, according to our guidebook, 'the links are so nasty that only the devil could play golf here'. Sure enough, the links are full of sharp salt crystals (shaped by wind and rain), lots of holes and miles upon miles of difficult terrain.

My personal favorite picture from our death valley trip. When we went to hike in Golden Canyon, we stumbled upon a Boy Scout troop having lunch. I caught this picture of them enjoying a rest after hiking the canyon.

The day we visited Death Valley was cloudy and very windy, so the weather was quite striking. We saw several lenticular clouds (like these) throughout the day. These were taken from Zebrewskie Point.

On our way out of the valley, we decided to make one last stop at Salt Creek to watch the sunset. The sunset from the valley was phenomenal, due to the weather and reflective terrain.

More pictures of Death Valley available on my Picasa Page.

No comments: