30 March 2001
Texas Spring Campground
Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP
The sun is getting ready to set…Hot today, in the mid 90s. A slight breeze blows from the south, a nice cooling effect to the constant sun from the west…The sun sits about an inch and a half off the peak…Lips are chapped a bit.
The name “Death Valley” conjures up images of a place of intense heat, sand, no water and pure desolation. Some even say that if there is a hell on earth, Death Valley may just be the place.
Gold-seeking forty-niners would agree with this assessment, as many found their destiny there.
But there is more to this jewel of the Mojave Desert.
We arrived on Friday afternoon via the road that passes by Telescope Peak. The peak was still snow-covered above the 10,000 foot level. Even in the hot desert, winter can bring snow capped mountains.
On Saturday morning we checked out Badwater. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest terrestial point in the Western Hemisphere. We learned of the Badwater snails, a species that exists in the small puddles of water on the salt flat. We walked out on the flat and took in the expanse of the valley, peaks rising to the far west and the near east of us.
Back in the car, we headed to Artist’s Palette. A winding, narrow road leads to a point on the rocky foothills that emanates soft colors of green, purple, yellow, red, blue and orange. The colors are little more than mineral deposits.
We completed the one-way Artist’s Drive and went around for a second time. This time we unhitched the mountain bike from the rack. I rode the narrow, blind curves and twisting hills with my first ever car shuttle following behind me.
We placed the bike back on the rack and headed for Golden Canyon.
The brochure at the trailhead describes Golden Canyon as “a fascinating showcase of the effects of water in an arid land.”
We walked the interpretive trail and learned the geologic history of the canyon. In short, we learned that more than five million years ago a lake had existed where we were standing and that the rocks have been fractured, faulted and folded since then, providing their current appearance.
Also, we took in the “showcase” sites named Red Cathedral–a red rock cliff of unparalled beauty–and Manly Beacon–an immense golden rock reaching high above the canyon.
At the trail’s end, we decided to take the connecting trail over to Zabriskie Point, a photographer’s dream. Along the way we hiked through hills of intense yellow. We photographed and hoped that the neopolitan ice-cream colors of a different set of hills would come out. We stood in awe of nature when we came to a vista of more intense yellow bisected by a deep contrasting ash black, dry river bed.
We moved on to the Point and rested for a few minutes before deciding that the bus loads of tourists were too much for our liking. We meandered down the hill to the dry river bed. We took Gower Gulch back to the car, the highlight being a short bouldering session over what was at one time a cascading waterfall.
Tired and seeking a cool drink, we headed to the nearest gas station. Along the way we passed by the famous sand dunes and the lesser known Devil’s Cornfield, an eerie field of wind and sand created hummocks of arrowweed.
On the way home, we watched the setting sun paint the Panamint Mountains rose and purple. We talked of our dreams. We talked of our lives.
(written 15 April 2001)