March 19, 2018
Death Valley National Park boasts the land of superlatives: hottest, driest, lowest. This desert holds the record for the Earth’s highest recorded temperature of 134F (56.7C), undoubtedly exhibits the driest climate I have ever experienced and is home to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level. This place captivated me before I even witnessed it firsthand.
Zabriskie Point welcomed me and Anthony to Planet Mars. Unusual bumpy mountains crawled through the backdrop as far as the eye could see. Volcanic activity affected the landscape and today we are left with arid, weathered terrain. On the West side of the range, we found ourselves at Badwater Basin. Everything named in Death Valley derives from a very literal meaning, including here. Years ago when a prospector explored the land, it elated him to find water in the desert. However, his mule refused to drink it despite the extreme heat. When he tried it for himself, he spat out the salty, undrinkable water noting how the water in this basin is bad. We could have taken a seemingly endless walk into the abyss given the appropriately cool March temperatures. Because of the lack of contrast, I couldn’t tell whether to trust the mirages on this crusty salt flat or not. While I stared at a small sign on the mountainside marked “sea level,” I could easily sympathize with past surveyors encountering extreme disorientation.
The scenic drive to Artist’s Palette leads you through a mystical array of pastel painted hills. I would suggest detouring here when you travel South to North on the main road. This 9 mile one way road weaves through peaks stained by the oxidation of various metals. The route does not offer many turnoffs, so stop for a wander whenever you can. Just before sunset, we found a couple lounging in their camping chairs next to a portable grill, eating dinner and reveling in the sights. They had the right idea for next time.
Unfortunately Dante’s View, both another breathtaking lookout and a filming location for Star Wars, was closed when we visited, but we look forward to it when we return. Of all the wonders we found today, I couldn’t wait to see what our second day in Death Valley would hold.
Next up: 4WD the Racetrack la Playa