I was sitting there typing notes covered in Death Valley grit, sand and dust. And it was hot. No, it was worse than hot. With names like Furnace Creek, Hell's Gate, Devil's Cornfield, Dante's VIew, Funeral Peak and Devil's Golf Course one might think heat was involved. However, the heat does not detract from the sheer beauty of the place.
Land of Great Extremes
Great extremes haunt this hottest, driest, lowest national park. Extremes in temperature and elevation create scenic vistas and ecological niches that host startling biological diversity. This desert supports nearly 1,000 native plant species and harbors fish, snails and other aquatic animals found nowhere else. To the uninitiated, Death Valley National Park appears to be a vast, empty wasteland, but to the aficionado it is a place of wonder and endless stories. The colorful terrain shouts tales of cataclysmic forces that thrust rock layers upward and of opposing erosional forces battling to tear them down. Desert winds whisper romances of the past -- of the 49ers lured by the glitter of gold and of Chinese laborers scraping borax-rich crystals from the valley floor. They spin dustdevil yarns of partnership between a teller of tall tales and his castle-builders. And, throughout time and into the future, the Timbisha Shoshone people live sustained by their "valley of life."
Source: National Park Service brochure
This was my second visit to Death Valley National Park, the first in 2002, when I saw a sign on U.S. Highway 95 coming down from Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. The sign read: "Beatty, Nevada, Gateway to Death Valley National Park." I had to take a look, then, and I had to take another look in 2011, simply because some places are of such vast beauty that they must be seen again.
On this visit I stayed two days in Death Valley. My first time was an all too short about five hours driving the 69 mile eastern loop in the park. I had, at that time, made a commitment to drive through the park from California to Nevada. And this time I had to see as much as I could possibly see. And I saw a lot. From the base of Mount Whitney to the Panamine Valley through the Panamint Range and up into Mosaic Canyon (photos on another page), to Stovepipe Village down to the Harmony Borax Works (photos on Day Two) and Furnace Creek and the Visitor Center. I stayed at the Texas Spring campground. It was already dark, when I arrived there and finding my way around was fun, if not an adventure. All the campgrounds in the park are self-register in the summertime. I had a peaceful sleep at sea level.
These first few photos are of the Panamint Valley, which is a part of Death Valley National Park, but separated from Death Valley by the Panamint Mountain Range.
Deep gorges cut through the mountains
These four photos taken from the Padre Crowley Point Overlook were meant to be a panorama, but didn't match up well
Some interesting vegetation grows in the desert. On the left is Desert Holly. Its silver colored leaves reflect sunlight and turn on edge to reduce exposure. Dormant in the summer, it blooms in the winter and is pollinated not by insects, but by the wind.
Color is everywhere
Some people say the desert is boring and drab. Well, those people either have never been to a desert or their concept of color ends with the primary and secondary colors. Just because the colors are nature's colors and earth tones does not make them lifeless or boring. If one includes the sky, I saw every color of the rainbow and then some in Death Valley and these colors are vivid and bright. A similar statement can be made for the other parts of the Mojave Desert that I traveled through. It has been said there is beauty in everything and there is much beauty in Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley in the distance and looking over a cliff
I did not pay that price. Death Valley, which was once under Lake Manly. Lake Manly was a pluvial, former freshwater, endorheic, rift lake that filled the Death Valley basin. At its greatest extent Lake Manly was roughly 80 miles long and 600 feet deep.
On the right are the first sand dunes I saw
I have no idea what this place is, there were no signs, but there were restrooms. The following photos were taken after my trip up into Mosaic Canyon as the sun was fading into the west.
More sand dunes
Near this marker and the old fire truck was the site of Burned Wagon Point. A Jayhawker group of Death Valley Forty-Niners, gold seekers from the Middle West, entered Death Valley in 1849 looking for a short route to the mines of Central California. Here they burned their wagons, dried the meat of some oxen and with the surviving animals struggled westward on foot. California State Registered Landmark No. 441 From this point, they still had a long way to go. I spent most of my time in the park below sea level.
These are the Mesquite Dunes. Sand is everywhere in the desert, but sand dunes are not. For sand dunes to form three things must be present; a supply of sand, strong wind and something to slow that wind. The sands shift with every wind storm, but the dunes are trapped in place.
Love the late afternoon shadows on the dunes
Sand dunes appear lifeless at first glance, but below the surface the dunes provide precious water and an escape from the extreme temperatures. In the dunes the sparce rainfall doesn't go to waste. The sand acts like a sponge, absorbing water in the space between individual grains of sand. Plants with long taproots like mesquite flourish along the fringe of the dunes. Shrubs with wide-spreading roots like creosote bush grow larger and more robust than those found just outside the dunes. Their net-like roots stabilize the loose sand and allow burrowing animals to dig without risk of collapsing dens.