7/31/18 A spontaneous trip to the Mt. Whitney area gave me a chance to head over to Death Valley for the first time. Topping out at 127 degrees F, it was a very hot, but fascinating day in this huge National Park.
1 After picking-up the permit for my Whitney summit attempt the following day, I made the 2 hour drive out to Death Valley National Park. Shortly after entering the park, you come to Father Crowley Vista, which is a nice outlook over an impressive Grand Canyon-esque canyon.
2 Next stop was the Mesquite Flat sand dunes. These warning signs are all over the park. I can only imagine how many Search and Rescue operations they must have in Death Valley. I also love the addition of the "No Drones" symbol to the list!
3 The sand dunes. This is where the backdrops of Tatooine were filmed for Star Wars. How awesome is that!? I decided to take a little excursion and get closer to those big sand dunes in the distance. The temps were only 95 degrees at the moment.
4 Getting closer. Even more than the heat, the dryness just sucks the water out of you. And distances are really deceiving out here. Those dunes are a lot further a way than they look.
5 I probably only went about 1/2 mile out. If I had more time, and had more water on me, I would have kept going. But I liked the view here. You can picture Luke Skywalker's hut right there :)
6 Next stop was the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. In less than an hour, the temperature and gone from 95 to 116. I was hoping for higher, but would be content if it stayed at 116. Little did I know, the heat of the day was just starting!
7 Next stop was the Devil's Golf Course. It's a rugged ancient lake bed covered in crystallized salt that continues to deposit here from the occasional flood. It's a fascintating landscape.
8 Looking the other direction across the Devil's Golf Course. The mountains surrounding Death Valley reach as high as 11,000', making for an amazing contrast in terrain.
9 Next stop Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. It's also the start of the infamous Badwater Ultra that runs along the highway from here to Whitney Portal at 8,374' above sea level and 135 miles away! I had now officially established the first endpoint of my wannabee Badwater challenge.
10 The springs at Badwater. Crazy to see water here in 117 degree heat and 282 feet below sea level. The water emerging here right now started as rain or snow thousands of years ago in the Ice Age in the mountains of Nevada. It then very slowly makes its way here. It's called Badwater because the first surveyors couldn't get their horses to drink here and called the water "bad", which would make sense given the high salt content.
11 No, it's not a white paved road, it's part of the huge Badwater salt flat. The minerals get deposited here from flood waters that wash down the local mountains. The water forms temporary lakes that evaporate and then leave the minerals behind.
12 From a distance the flats look smooth, but up close they're quite rough and covered in crystalline salt formations.
13 After Badwater Basin, I head out to the Artist's Drive loop. There are some great viewpoints along the way.
14 It almost looks like a tractor has smoothed the ground and formed huge dirt piles, but it's the result of floods.
15 About halfway around the loop, you come to the Artist's Palette. There's an amazing array of greens, pinks, purples, and reds that are the result of different minerals from volcanic deposits millions of years ago. The picture definitely doesn't do the colors justice.
16 Next stop, Golden Canyon. There was actually once a paved road here leading up to Zabriskie Point. Now it's a wide trail, the most popular trail in the park.
17 There are fault lines running all over the place here, and it's super easy to see the direction of upheaval of the various rock layers. I went a 1/2 mile or so up the canyon, and would have loved to go further with a little more time and a little cooler temps.
18 Another famous Star Wars location. Imagine the Jawa's sand crawler capturing R2-D2 right there!
19 This trip was completely unplanned, so I had zero itinerary. I was just trying to hit as many of the top spots as possible. So far, every one had been great, so I continued my impromtu drive around the park. Next top Zabriskie Point, the most popular outlook spot. It doesn't dissapoint.
20 It looks like someone painted some of the peaks. This was once the bottom of a giant lake bed, and the sharp color constrast is the result of lava that oozed out through the lake floor. Now the terrain is formed from errosion and shifting fault lines.
21 Another look at the formations from Zabriskie Point with Badwater Basin in the distance below.
22 Next stop Dante's View. It's unquestionably the most dramatic view in the park. Almost 6,000' above Badwater Basin far below, it's a long drive up to this point, but well worth it. Telescope Peak on the other side of the basin is over 11,000' above the valley floor.
23 There's a little trail going to a nearby peak that looks too fun to pass-up. And the temperature is "only" 95 degress up here, which feels downright cool compared to Badwater below.
24 I hiked a mile or so up the ridgeline to the higest peak in the area. On a clear day, you're supposed to be able to see over 100 miles, even to the tips of the Sierras in the distance. But unfortunately the smoke from the Ferguson Fire is clouding the view today. But still an awesome expanse.
25 Quite by accident, I realized that I had hiked to the actual Dante's Peak summit.
26 The ridgelines here are awesome. One of these winters when it's chilly and only in the 80s, I would love to hike that whole ridgeline.
27 My 360 summit video for the day.
28 I love interesting trail signs, and this was a first. Fortunately there were no bees today!
29 Heading back down towards the basin now, I just had to snap a pic of the car thermometer. Now up to 121 degrees!
30 And then a little while later, a quick stop back at the Vistor Center, where the official temperature is now 127 degrees. Only 7 degrees off the world air temperature record of 134 degrees set here. Evidently the last two summers here have been the highest average temperature in history. For some reason, my mind stops processing temperature differences over 100 degrees. But going from 95 degrees to 127 is the same as going from 68 degrees to 100 degrees, and it really does feel like that big of a difference!
31 Last stop of the day was Mosaic Canyon. A short offroad drive takes you to this very cool little slot canyon.
32 It's barely one person wide in places.
33 Wouldn't want to be here in a flash flood.
34 The canyon widens after about 1/2 mile, and that's where I decided to turn back. It was still 116 degrees at almost 6:00pm, and I was the only one around. I didn't want to take any chances venturing out too far.
35 Heading back now, lots of cool rock formations.
36 Leaving the canyon in the early evening light.
37 On my way out of the park. End to a fascinating day in Death Valley!