Summer Travel Map

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day Trip: Death Valley National Park

While we were in Pahrump, Nevada, for a rally in March, we added a couple of days (OK, a week) on the beginning of the trip to allow some time to explore the area.

One place that I wanted to visit was Death Valley National Park. We had visited the Park once before, almost 20 years ago on one of our first “RV Rental Vacations”. That trip was in June and we realized after one evening that we were there at the wrong time of year, so we cut that visit short. I (correctly) calculated that March would provide a much better chance for temperate weather!

On this trip, we actually made two day trips to Death Valley from Pahrump. Our tours of Scotty’s Castle are written up separately.

March is usually a nice time of year for visits to the deserts of the southwest US. If there is sufficient winter rain, wildflowers are likely to be in bloom before the summer heat arrives. This past winter wasn’t overly wet, but we were still treated to several areas where wildflowers had appeared.

Geology is a constant companion in Death Valley, bounded by four mountain ranges and created as several faults have allowed plates to overlap and tilt large sections of rock both upward and downward. There is also evidence of volcanic activity throughout the Park.

Ubehebe Crater was formed by volcanic activity, and some scientists predict future eruptions are likely!
One of the most interesting features of the Park is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. If any rain falls in the Death Valley basin, it eventually ends up there if it wasn’t absorbed into the sandy soil first. We even saw a little water there, but mostly it’s dried mud and salt flats.

Geri enjoyed the low altitude, which helped her breathing!

Although there is a boardwalk, visitors are permitted to venture out into the salt flats for a distance.

Sea Level is actually about halfway up this rock cliff.

Just a little water was present on the day we visited.

I sent this picture to friends and family in the Midwest and Northeast, hoping they would think the salt was snow.

Just north of Badwater Basin is a loop drive called “Artists Drive”. We enjoyed the number of different colored rocks layered into the hillside, each representing a different chemical composition that has corroded away over thousands of years.

Quite a bit of hiking is involved to access various spots along Artists Drive.

I was intrigued by the triangular shapes left in the Panamint Mountains across the valley as erosion has occurred over long periods of time.

Each chemical element in these rocks leaves a distinct color behind over time.

Although Death Valley is one of the warmest and driest places on earth, water does play a role in shaping the geological features. As rain from the mountains flows into the valley, channels are cut into the rock and emerge as alluvial fans, sloping away from the cliffs. One of these channels has a natural bridge that is accessible after a short hike of moderate difficulty. It was interesting to see the shapes cut into the rock by the force of the water, which of course would have a lot of rock debris in it when flowing.

Rushing water from mountain rains created this enclave in the rocks near Natural Bridge.

A tour bus must have arrived right after I started this hike. The people give a sense of scale to the rock bridge.

A lone flower was clinging to the rocks along the trail.

Our last stop in the Park was at Dante’s View, well up in to mountains overlooking the valley floor. At this overlook we were actually quite close to Badwater Basin, just several thousand feet higher with excellent views.

Dante's View is actually a series of outcroppings connected by a trail.

"No RVs Allowed" signs must not apply to the RV Rental crowd. I'm surprised they didn't bottom out on some of the dips in the road.

Beautiful view looking northwest from Dante's View.
The salt flats at Badwater Basin are the little white strip in the lower left.

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