Hector 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.
Death 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.
The 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”.
The 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.
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.
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.
We 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.
From 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.
Our 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.
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.
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.