The Heat of Death Valley

There are so many amazing things and places around us, I wish I could have the power to discover, learn and see all of them. As you already know (if you have been reading along) we spent some time in the USA and one of the places we decided to visit was Death Valley. It is one of the hottest places on earth, in Eastern California on the West coast of the USA. If you spent any time in the states then probably you are already kind of thinking that everything is on a really big scale and for sure I was not mistaken thinking that it would be a long day full of experiences!

Giving thanks to the developers who create apps, I downloaded offline maps which are a great thing if/when they do work! The problem is that being in Death Valley means that other things might be dead too, including GPS signals it seems. Anyway I had kind of made a route for the day and, maybe slightly naively believed in our offline navigation! Oh well, we had hired a car and just didn’t want to pay extra for their navigation and we do love free things.

While I am thinking what to share with you my memory says that we were not so well prepared. Apart from a lack of maps or consistently working navigation, a lack of water and definitely the lack of food are things we probably should have thought more about.

I would like to say that we woke up in the early morning and went to pick up the car, but we didn’t. Anyway it was just a route of about 400 miles and my ‘little’ list of places to visit. Quickly grabbing some chips, water and a few bananas we were ‘ready’ for our adventure in one of the hottest places in the world and to experience the feeling of a real desert.

Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point and 20 Mule Team Canyon

As we are not staying in the area for much longer and couldn’t make a multi-day trip we picked up just a few places where we would like to go. We, like most people, always like to take pictures from above so that was the reason to visit Dante’s View. If you like to experience fun and exciting driving with an amazing view at the end then this is he place to go. Even though our perfect-imperfect navigation wanted to confuse us we managed to get the right turn after stopping to pay the fee (The fee for Death Valley National Park is $30 for 7 days so you have plenty of time to explore all the area). After the last 200 steep metres we reached the viewpoint and felt the fresh breeze as the view took our breath away. We were looking down from 1,669m on the north side of Coffins Peak, a perfect spot to overlook Death Valley.

Dante's view
Dante’s View

Looking at the rising temperature as we descended we could say that next place we would stop will be slightly warmer and I kind of started to think about the engine of the car and how well it will deal with the heat. Hmmm, a slightly worrying thought. The park is very well organised and there are many signs around so, without planning, we saw a sign for 20 Mules Team Canyon and we thought why not. It was an impressive drive and luckily we took the right entrance (it is one way traffic) in this up and down rally track. We stopped a couple of times just to look around and take our Polaroid picture.

Twenty mule teams were very important at the end of the XIX century. Their purpose was to transport borax out of the Death Valley mines to the closest railroad. Actually it was 18 mules and 2 horses used for pulling the wagons, but it isn’t such a catchy title.

20 mules Team
20 Mules Team Canyon

Just 5 minutes later we reached Zabriskie Point, and again it just made us say “Wauuuuw!!!” To start with this place is hot! It is also just so beautiful because of its relief, it is well known for the eroded landscape. The title has a connection with Twenty Mules Team Canyon, because Christian B. Zabriskie was vice president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company that used mules and horses to pull wagons.

Zabriskie Point.
Zabriskie Point

Badwater Basin

At the bottom of the valley, where warm mountain winds dance together with hot sun trapping the warm air and not letting it escape, there is Badwater Basin, way below sea level but hiding it’s own water. There is a reason why we see the sign – walking after 10 am not recommended. It was 50 degrees Celsius and not the hottest hour of the day. It feels like a sauna when the heat unites with the wind and burns your skin.

Badwater basin with Rima
Badwater Basin & Rima

The title is because the salt makes the water undrinkable and actually you can’t really see the water because of the thin crust of salt over the mud. To me it looked like a salt desert. Even though it is not recommended to step on it we wanted to feel it and to taste a bit just to make sure this is actually salt.

It looked like life is impossible around and this is where the title of the valley came from, but it is not true. There is a live, pickle weed and the Badwater Snail lives here! The title of valley was given by one of the pioneer group which been lost in the valley in 1849-50. The man just looked back and said – “Goodbye, Death Valley.” Snails aren’t the only things that live here though, Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe of Native Americas and some families still live here.

Badwater basin
Badwater Basin

Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette

Personally I would call all of 400 miles of our drive an artist’s drive. But there are a couple of kilometers, or I should say miles being in USA, that are actually called like this. When you are painting sometimes it takes time to chose the right colors, but not so for nature. It is always just the perfectly chosen colors all around. This drive just gave us a chance to see how colorful can be the land of death. As it is almost on the way back from the Badwater Basin view point if would be just a shame not to spend 20 more minutes going off route and having an incredible ride.

If you want to see the different colors of rocks just stop at this point on the drive route. The colors exist because of the oxidation of different metals. If you want to see the colors at their most beautiful, the best time to come is as the sun goes down.

Artist's pallet
Artist’s Pallete

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Being in LA we actually didn’t see amazing dunes as we would expect next to the ocean in California, but we saw them in Death Valley, lucky us! Oh yes we are! The light was so right, the sun was almost going to sleep and that magical moment which gives the special light was just ours. At some point I felt like at home, because in Lithuania we have something similar just not in a desert, but surrounded by the sea and lagoon.

The heat was lower and the fresh breeze of wind was inviting us to capture some pictures. Don’t be mistaken they are not the only dunes in the valley, but all the route we wanted to be easy accessible so these dunes were probably the easiest to access. Nature made the perfect conditions to create dunes here, winds, sand, relief to collect the sand.

Flat Sand Dunes
Flat Sand Dunes

Ghost Town

On the way back we stopped at one of the many ghost towns in USA. A quite common reason for ghost towns is historic mining long ago abandoned. The closest to our route was Rhyolite in Nevada. The town began in 1905, for guess the reason? Yes gold rush times in the Bullfrog Hills! Right now it is hard to believe that it was a place for 2500 people, it is truly ghostly especially in the evening and kind of gives you a bit of mystery. It was interesting to see one of these towns and maybe later to visit more.

ghost town
Ghost town

Coffee break

As the sun went down and donkeys ran on the main road, the car was starting take care about the driver and tell us that driving over 150 miles without stopping makes you wish for a coffee break. Thank you modern new car but we kind of wanted to have tacos from the same place in Las Vegas we had been to the night before! So with empty stomachs but full of all the beauties we saw today on we drove back to the city without a coffee break!

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