Day 133 – Death Valley Sojourn, April 9, 2011
I can’t even begin to describe Death Valley National Park in the detail it deserves, and I’m certain my pictures won’t do it justice, especially since I have resorted to my point and shoot camera until April 14th when I get a replacement for my good camera. While I know the temperatures over the summer average a ridiculous 115 degrees, Death Valley is a misnomer for this park. It is a land of great extremes that also includes an immense variety. Every twenty miles seems to offer a different landscape: snow capped mountains, desert canyons, wildflowers, sand dunes, streams, and salt crystals that cover the lowest point in the forty-eight contiguous states. I’m simply awestricken…perhaps because I was expecting a hot flat desert with my only reference being runners follow the roads’ white lines during the century race each summer so the soles of their shoes don’t melt…not exactly inviting.
I arrived in this massive park shortly after noon. Being the weekend, I wanted to be sure to secure a campground, so despite my desire to stop about every 300 yards to snap a photo of the patchwork colored ridges, I pressed on into the middle of the park and easily found a site at Texas Springs Campground. Temperatures start to rise in April which is the last month of the high season. We arrived on an unseasonably, cool day…I think temperatures in the afternoon reached the low seventies! If I had to knock the park, I suppose I could knock the campgrounds. The sites are essentially located on a gravel parking lot with little shade and no electric or water amenities, but the bathrooms do have flush toilets, which is an upgrade from Joshua Tree. Also, one of the “resorts” (that might be stretching it – but there is a golf course) sells passes to showers and the pool for $5, and it is only a quarter of a mile away.
After securing our spot, Petey, VANilla, and I set out to see the oldest exposed rock in the park at Mormon Point. Given it was at least 20 miles one way from the campground, and I had been driving since 6:30 this morning, I kept thinking to myself, this better be worth it. I suppose I’m glad I picked this landmark first, or it would have been anticlimactic at the end of the day. I could have skipped the extra miles to this stop, but at least I can say I’ve seen the oldest, exposed rock…well I think. I wasn’t exactly sure which rock it was!?! Apparently the younger layers of rock have eroded from the wind and water and exposed a rounded black core called a turtleback which is 2 billion years old. I asked a few people that were standing around, and they looked at me like I had two heads. They had simply stopped to take a picture of the surrounding mountains which were magnificent.
On the way to Momon Point, I passed Badwater, Devils Golf Course and Artists Drive; all places I planned to see this afternoon, so VANilla, Petey, and I U-turned to explore these fascinating areas. Badwater is a 282 feet below sea level making it the lowest point in the United States. Supposedly, it got its name when a surveyor’s mule refused to drink the water. The water isn’t poisonous, but its composition is similar to Epsom salt. In fact, from Badwater Pool, visitors may trek across five miles of salt flats located on the valley floor beneath Telescope Peak, 11,049 feet high.
Just north of Badwater lies Devils Golf Course which looks like the earth’s surface cracked and buckled upward creating a jagged terrain covered in salt crystals. Not even Jack Nicklaus could par a hole on this golf course. In fact, most golfers would claim, “Ground under repair”.
After our quick stop at Devils Golf Course, we follwed Artists Drive, a nine mile one way loop that seemed to be blasted into the hillside. We twisted left and right, climbed up small hills, and raced down them like we were on our own personal roller coaster. The roller coaster carried us past pastel pinks, greens, and blues mixed with earthy reds, browns, and fawns to create a collage of colors. It seemed like every color in the 64 count box of Crayola Crayons could be accounted for here. I’ve never seen anything like it. Had I only seen a painting of these hills without actually seeing the landscape, I would have probably thought the artist was employing an abstract design. I only wish my camera could have captured the variety of tints that enveloped the hills. I’m certain I will just have to rely on my memory. It was truly spectacular! What a way to end the day before heading back to the campgrounds.
The campsite on the right of VANilla was open most the day until a cute guy pulled in with his truck and tent. Shortly after the usual, “Hi, how are you” greeting, Jeff walked over, sat down at my picnic table where I was eating my tomato and avocado dinner, and asked, “Are you by yourself?” “Yes”, I replied, and we spent the rest of the evening chatting about various things as we sat in the warmth of a campfire. Jeff, originally from Ohio, has been in Southern California the last seven years working as a contractor for telecom companies. He manages cell tower projects. I told him he needed to put a cell tower in Joshua Tree National Park! Anyway, if it works out we will spend the morning together visiting a few more park highlights. ETB