Badwater Basin – Death Valley National Park, CA 8-9-15
This was my second trip into Death Valley, California and I have to say this is one place which never disappoints. I always find it funny when I first mention visiting Death Valley to people who are not familiar with the outdoors I am met with blank stares and comments such as “why on earth would you do that?!”, but this is one place whose name does not do its beauty justice. In my opinion Death Valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and it never stops being amazing. The variety of landscapes and hues of color you can see, in addition to the weather extremes make it a truly magical place.
On this particular trip I was on a tight schedule since I arrived very late Saturday and had to be in Lone Pine, California by Sunday Afternoon to meet up with my friend for our Mt Whitney climb. I landed in Las Vegas at about 11pm on Saturday and by the time I gathered my bags, got my rental car, and stocked up at Walmart I was on the way to Death Valley at about 12:30am. The main goal of driving into the valley this late was that one it was almost exactly half way between Las Vegas and Lone Pine, and I wanted to see the night sky in such a dark and empty place. The night sky certainly did not disappoint!
I decided on camping at Furnace Creek which sits at 190 ft below sea level. It is the campground directly next to the Death Valley visitor center. Even though it was the middle of the night it was still incredibly hot and it was a warm night sleeping in the car in the 90 degree heat (with the windows open!), luckily there was no humidity. I also tried my hand at some star photography but since I am still on the road I have not been able to really look at the images and see if I was able to capture anything.
Given my intense jet lag I was wide awake only a few hours later at 6am but I was greeted to my first views of the landscape around me. It is a great way to start my trip.
Since it happened to be so early I knew I had time to explore a little while before I had to be in Lone Pine so I decided to make a trip over to Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in the contiguous United States. This seemed extra fitting as I was going to be climbing the highest point in the contiguous United States the next day. Also on my first trip to the valley I had missed visiting the lowest point.
The drive from Furnace Creek to Badwater only takes about 20-30 mins and is quite beautiful all along the way.
Once you arrive at Badwater, 282 ft below sea level, there is a small parking lot and boardwalk leading you out onto the salt flat. There is also a small pool of “bad water”. This water is not actually bad, just salty and it is home to some life that does not exist anywhere else. The cliff that looms over the parking area also has a placard marking where sea level is, which really gives you a sense of just how low you are.
When you first look out off the board walk you might think that all you are looking at is boring old desert sand but in reality it is a landscape covered in crunchy white salt. The salt flat is huge and stretches off in every direction. The area immediately off the deck is well traveled and the salt flat is stamped down to a very solid surface. The salt areas on the edges is rough and natural and has the consistency of ice covered snow.
I took some time to walk around on the salt flat and take in the scenery before deciding I should get on my way. On the way back up the road I passed the turn off for the “Artists Palette” which is a small road detour which leads you through a side valley which offers spectacular views of multicolored rocks and landscape. This varied landscape is the product of various minerals which are infused in the rock formations and give them their unique colors. The road is a short detour and you don’t even have to get out of your car if you don’t want to, so there is really no reason not to check it out. I would also highly recommend getting out and walking around at least a little bit!
Once I finished that drive I started my leisurely drive out of Death Valley and on to Lone Pine. Along the way out of the valley you are hit with some of the best views along the way even right off the road. Although it was a very short stop in my trip it was a lot of fun and I am excited to go back, especially in the winter months so that I can actually take some time to do some hiking in the valley.