Friday, April 30, 2010

Death Valley National Park

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death... Welcome to Death Valley National Park! I was prepared for the heat, but I wasn't prepared for the beauty! Wow!

Death Valley itself is a graben; a graben being a region of the earth's crust which sinks lower in elevation as pieces of the crust on either side pull apart from one another. It easily secures the award of being the lowest, hottest, and driest National Park in the U.S.

The park was established in 1933 by President Hoover, and expanded even larger in 1994 under President Clinton. It is truly a national treasure for those thirsty for natural beauty, and it will leave you thirsty for more... water.

Above I am at the mouth of Mosaic Canyon, which had an excellent short hike. And a short hike is all you want to do in the heat of the afternoon sun, believe me!

Deeper into the canyon, erosion-smoothed marble-like dolomite abutted a conglomerate formation which looked like natural concrete, with layers of carved mudstone all around.

A long, lonesome road cut through Death Valley, providing easy access to many of the park's most picturesque locations. But like most of our other National Parks, Death Valley had acres and acres of back country for the more adventurous visitor to explore.

That little green sign by the side of the road reads “Elevation Sea Level.” Hmmm... I wonder if they will have to move that sign soon?

For the most part, Death Valley is a rocky desert, but there are a handful of locations with sand dunes. It is believed that they have accumulated in those particular locations due to the patterns of the wind currents where the wind typically slows enough to drop the fine sand it carries.

I saw this neat pattern in the sand at the top of a dune. Cool! Well, actually, hot! The sand scorched my toes!

There was a really pretty driving loop called Artist's Drive.

The palette of colors were terrestrially limited, yet still incredibly beautiful.

It was definitely worth the detour to see these majestic mountains.

As you can tell, there is not much vegetation out here, but it is here, and it supports a plethora of heat-adapted animals.

This is Badwater, literally! A small spring trickles up through the ground in one of the lowest elevation spots in the park. Yet this water is super-saturated with salt. You would die sooner by drinking it than not.

The salt deposits in Badwater formed a crusty, crunchy layer on the top surface. Bring your French fries! Salt for everyone! Badwater basin is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 feet (85.5 meters) below sea level.

My favorite spot which I had the chance to explore was called Zabriskie Point, which fortunately is also one of the most accessible points in the park. So you should definitely put it on your list if you visit.

After a brief uphill hike, there was a nice view from a hill near the parking lot.

But if you get there early enough in the morning, you definitely need to take the badlands hike at Zabriskie Point.

While you're hiking, if you keep your eyes open, occasionally you will see a hole bored into the side of a hill. This is a remnant of the borax mining operation which once operated in Death Valley, before it was a National Park. It's hard to believe that anyone would work all the way out here in the middle of nowhere, and in this oppressive heat! It was probably much more comfortable to be in the borax mines than it was to be outside in sunshine.

On the return leg of the hike, you traverse through what would be a river valley, if there was water around. Instead, you see the record of floods past in the layers of rocky debris.

With the horizontal layers of rock deposits, and the angular layers in the sandstone, it was a line-lovers dream!

Well, that's it for this trip. I think I am starting to hallucinate from this heat. Was that a purple bunny with wings and antelope horns? I, um, I'm going to go drink some water. See you next time!

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