Death Valley National Park

death valley 7death valley 2Hector has wanted to take me to Death Valley National Park since he went there many years ago and fell in love with the desert. Our original plan was visit during March and see the wildflowers. A month later the flowers were gone and with temperatures in the 90’s to 100’s, dry camping was not an option, so we decided on a day trip instead.

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death valley 5Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska. It is a vast landscape and also the hottest, driest and lowest national park. And it is also diverse; with salt flats, mountains, canyons, rolling sand dunes and spring-fed oases. Ninety-one percent of the park is designated wilderness.death valley 8death valley 47

death valley 1The name Death Valley came about when members of the ‘49ers, young pioneer families heading west in 1849 after gold was found in the area, decided to take a “shortcut”. Many got lost and turned back, and one man died. When the remaining few left to continue their journey, one is said to have turned back to declare “Goodbye, Death Valley”.death valley 9

death valley 13death valley 10death valley 18The valley averages less than two inches of rain per year, and some years has no rain, as four major mountain ranges to the west absorb most of the moisture from winter storms from the Pacific. Heat radiating from the rocks and soil becomes trapped in the narrow basin that is the valley, whose sparse plant life allows sunlight to continuously heat the desert surface.

Despite its barren landscape, the park supports nearly 1,000 native plants, some fish, snails and other aquatic animals. It is also home to coyotes, lizards and iguanas, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, groundsquirrels, birds and other animals.death valley 25

During our visit the temperature rose to 106 degrees, and we had Angel with us so we didn’t wander too long outside of the car. The drive through this arid and desolate landscape seemed eternal. It is difficult to describe the immensity of this place.death valley 14death valley 16

We stopped at the ruins of Harmony Borax Works, a borax refinery that operated from 1883 to 1888. It was here that 20 mule teams, consisting of mules and double wagons, hauled borax overland. I use borax as a natural ingredient for cleaning and skin products, so it was interesting to learn more about this mineral.

death valley 20We continued to the Visitor Center, the one and only place where we found a grassy area for Angel to walk around in. It gets so hot here that the visitor center parking area has shade structures for the cars to park under.  We purchased our new annual national parks pass -planning for adventures ahead.

death valley 27death valley 29From the visitor center we continued to Badwater Basin, salt flats that sit in a Basin at the lowest elevation in North America. There are active earthquake faults throughout the park, causing the Panamint Range to rise on one side of a tipping fault, while Badwater Basin, on the other side falls. death valley 28

death valley 31Badwater Basin continues to fall despite salt, gravel and soil deposited there by erosion.  The Basin covers nearly 200 square miles.

The flats are harsh and uninhabitable yet delicate.  It is a stark and barren landscape, but quite a fascinating place.death valley 32

death valley 34death valley 33Our last stop was a drive on the loop known as Artist Drive, badlands that show off their varied hues in soft light. The multi-color palette is formed by volcanic minerals that were chemically altered by heat and water with oxygen and other introduced elements.death valley 36

death valley 44Minerals found here include iron, aluminum, magnesium, titanium, red hematite and green chlorite.

And they create a lovely panorama of pastels.death valley 43

death valley 45death valley 46While on the drive, we heard a weird noise coming from under the car and realized that a “skid plate” under the engine had come loose and was dragging on the ground.

As Hector was crawling around trying to figure out what to do a nice couple also driving a Subaru stopped to help.

Turns out they had the same problem once.  They helped Hector rig up a temporary solution re-attaching the plate with some wire.

After thanking them, we were off once again.  We encounter so many kind and helpful strangers along our journey.death valley 37

Once it got dark, it was time to head back to our campground. But I am really glad we made time for a brief glimpse of the park, and now I understand why this vast and stark landscape captivated Hector when he first saw it.

~ Brenda










17 thoughts on “Death Valley National Park

  1. Death Valley is definitely a unique NP. We spent 3 days there and it was not nearly enough to take in it’s rare and raw beauty. Lovely captures.

  2. So glad you got at least day to see the beauty in this park. I can’t believe how hot it was already. The ranger told us when we were there in Nov that they have very few months of decent temps any more. She said the summer starts earlier and earlier each year and ends later and later. Next time you need to spend several days. It is a tough park to see in a day because everything is long drive. But you most definitely got the flavor for all the various different physical features. Artist Drive is beautiful with that colored pallet. How nice that the couple stopped to offer help! It is good to know there are so many good people around:)

  3. My family and I RV’d out West when I was 16 sometime in August. That trip is why I made it to CO to live and meet you guys. As we parked along the road to take in Dealth Valley I walked out of the AC RV and the heat just hit me. It really gave me the appreciation of the desert and the beauty it can offer, but at 120+, it was flippin HOT. I remember being glad when we made it out with the RV still running. : )

    • Wow! Great story. We’ve never been in 120+ temperatures, but it’s a dry heat 🙂 One of the other commenters said that the ranger told her that summer starts earlier and earlier and ends later and later each year. We may return on our way south which will be late October, early November.

  4. There is such serenity in the desert, and you capture it beautifully! Godspeed, Friends! Love and miss you three! xo

  5. Hi Brenda

    I made the drive down into Death Valley from the east in the motorhome towing the Prius a year ago. I remember having a heck of a time coming back out on the west side, a very long uphill grade where the RV struggled at times. You made a good choice to do it as a day trip.

    Have just spent two weeks at Malhuer NWR in Oregon on my way north to Alaska. If you haven’t been here, it’s quite a place for a nature photographer. Tell Hector to check out the blog for some photos of the place.

    Hope to run into you guys somewhere on the trip north! If not, then I’m sure I’ll see you in Denali as our reservations at the campground there overlap a bit.


    • That drive west was definitely a giant climb. We are by Great Basin National Park right now, will visit tomorrow for the first time. We’ll definitely check out the blog for your photos of Malhuer, we love those National Wildlife Refuges. I’m sure we’ll run into each other in Alaska, and happy to hear that we’ll overlap in Denali.


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