If you visit Death Valley National Park with the expectation that it’s hot, dusty, dry, and kind of beige, you are in for a huge revelation. The variation in color, topography, and geology in this enormous Park is stunning. Although this was our second visit, there’s so much here, we have barely scratched the surface.
First of all, let’s dispense with the hot/dry myth.We didn’t have campsite reservations, but had no trouble getting a pretty good site – one with enough room for our awning (necessary in crappy weather), and with a wee bit of space between us and our neighbors.We knew for sure that we wanted to hike to the bottom of the Ubehebe (U-Be-HEE-Be) Crater, formed by one of the more recent geological events in Death Valley. The Shoshone Indians, who were the only residents of the area at the time, didn’t record this event, but it’s estimated that somewhere between 600-1300 years ago, magma met underground spring water, and erupted. The resulting crater is 600 feet deep, and about 1-1/2 miles in circumference. It’s eerie and beautiful. We duped ourselves into thinking that it would be an easy hike (well, it WAS easy to get to the bottom). The trek to the top from the bottom was another story – much like hiking the 400′ sand dune at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, for those of you from Michigan. I was seriously huffing and puffing. It made the perimeter stroll seem much easier, although the soft surface in places required a lot of effort.On to Mosaic Canyon. Once again, Death Valley has provided a very other-worldly experience. One side has smooth curvy marble sides, and the other has a rough sediment layer pressed on, and around, creating the mosaic effect. In the most narrow areas, it’s very apparent. In other spots, it might be easy to stroll through without noticing all the crazy differences.
Completing our Day 1 of textures, we wandered around the Mesquite Dune areathen on to the Devil’s Cornfield. As you step in the Cornfield, each foot breaks through the thin salt crust. Jezzy was spooked.This was the only area where we saw pickleweed, these curious, rubbery feeling plants. Day 2 was continuous rain, so we stayed close to home, exploring the Visitor Center, with its excellent exhibits, and Furnace Creek Village, which consists of a bar/restaurant, post office, golf course, and the Borax Museum. The mining of borax was one of the principal reasons people came to DV to live and work. Borax was hauled out in wagons, originally powered by mule teams (the 20-Mule Team Borax theme is everywhere).
Bright sunshine in the morning of Day 3 lulled us into thinking that the worst of the crap weather was behind us. HA! Leaving Jezzy snoozing on the bed, we set off in the truck to explore Golden Canyon, including hikes to the Red Cathedral, Badlands, and Gower Gulch. We got off to a great start, clambering up to the Red Cathedral to admire the views. But the Badlands Trail was the highlight of the day. Golden fingers of rock and sand, eroded by wind and rain create a very unusual landscape. Up and down, we wandered along, encountering very few other hikers. At the bottom of the canyon, we connected to Gower Gulch. The storms of the past week left their mark – some areas were thick with very sticky mud, which added pounds to each footstep. Yet, other spots had the distinctive cracked pattern one associates with DV – the difference was that the moisture enabled me to actually pick chunks out of the puzzle. About three inches below the surface, it was as if there had been no rain at all. Looking about the Gulch, its easy to envision the rush of water that occurs with storms – it surely is no place you would want to be trapped. As we got back to the truck, the wind was roaring, and once again, the rain started. We did catch one shot of the Firetruck against a glowing backdrop of Badwater Basin. You’d swear this was water, but it’s pure, dry salt.We still had time to drive through the Artist’s Palette Drive. The variety of minerals in this area provides an unbelievable palette of colors. Even now, as I look at my photos, I can’t believe these are the true colors. But they are.No journey for the Campshaws would be complete without calamity. Upon returning to camp we discovered that our front window had been torn completely off the Fireball by the wind, leaving poor traumatized Jezzy huddled inside. Not only were the inside and outside panes cracked, but the frame was ripped off as well. Damn! John applied his Adapt and Overcome motto to the issue. Although it took the better part of an entire roll of duct tape to fix, we’re pretty sure the window will withstand the rest of our trip. It adds to the Clampett look, don’t you think?