Death Valley National Park is the largest park in the lower 48 states with an area of 3.3 million acres (over 5000 square miles). Death Valley is the lowest, driest and hottest place in North America. It owns the second hottest recorded temperature in history of 134 degrees in 1913. The massive 100-mile long valley shown above is sandwiched between two mountain ranges which trap in the hot air. This photo overlooks Badwater Basin from a mile above at Dante’s View.
If you can get past the fact that Death Valley regularly kills people (a cyclist died here the day before we arrived), Death Valley is actually a very beautiful place. The desolation is offset by the vast beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains. We celebrated our 20th anniversary on our trip of a lifetime in Death Valley. Here we are sitting at Zabriskie Point.
Death Valley is considered a geologist’s dream. Whereas most places have the youngest rock layers on top and the oldest on the bottom, Death Valley is a jumble of layers that have geologists arguing which end is up. A park ranger described Death Valley geology this way: “Imagine different colored sticks of gum stacked upon each other. Now put them in your mouth, chew a few times, pull out the wad of gum, and that is Death Valley.”
The 500-foot deep Ubehebe Crater was created only 2,000 years ago when rising magma turned groundwater to steam, resulting in a massive explosion. We fought hurricane-force winds at the top, so we hiked into the crater and enjoyed our lunch in the peaceful warm bottom. Climbing back up the steep, sandy crater wall was a challenging workout!
We had a terrific spot in the Sunset Campground with the Armagosa Mountains in the background. It’s amazing to wake up each morning and look out our bedroom window to gaze upon mountains. Our black SUV and white RV are in the center of the photo above.
I climbed to the top of a nearby mountain searching for a trail that appeared on my GPS but never materialized in real life. Click on the photo to view a larger version, and see if you can spot Theresa patiently sitting on the sand ridge far below and talking to two other hikers walking by. Also notice the sand storm raging in the distance.
Wind was a near-constant factor in Death Valley. The first day we arrived it was hot—117 degrees in the sun. But then the winds picked up the next day and kept the temperature down to a more moderate and enjoyable 80s. By our last day here, the winds were gusting over 50 mph, creating a huge sandstorm through the center of the valley. Dozens of dust devils raged across the valley floor like aliens crawling over our planet. It was a sight to behold. But driving through the sand storm was tricky, as visibility dropped to near zero and our eyes watered even when we were closed up safely in the car.
Golden Canyon was one of our favorite hikes. We stumbled upon a ranger-led walk and learned all about the flora and geology of Death Valley. Afterward we explored the rest of the canyon, which was surrounded by beautiful, colorful, wind-sculpted dunes and mountains.
A lake once covered the Death Valley floor to a depth of 30 feet. When it evaporated, it left behind piles of minerals that hardened into crazy shapes as shown here in the Devil’s Golf Course.
The Natural Bridge was formed by runoff that cut a channel below more solid rock that eventually formed this bridge.
Palm trees in Death Valley… who knew? But there is an oasis of palm trees and meandering streams in the Furnace Creek area, along with hotels, restaurants and $6/gallon gas.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level (while Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, is only 84 miles away). The Badwater salt flats shown above are over 5 miles in diameter. Nearby pools are more than 3 times saltier than the ocean and therefore undrinkable by any animals, hence the name Badwater. Occasionally the basin floods under a couple inches of water, but it doesn’t last long. The 1.9” of annual rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150-inch annual evaporation rate, making this the driest place in North America.