Leaving Furnace Creek we drove south along Badwater Road to our next destination – Artist Drive. I’ve seen photographs of this area since childhood and I couldn’t wait to see it. The Basin – Death Valley’s long, salt crusted valled was to our right, framed by the Panamint Mountain Range. To our left the Armagosa Mountain Range loomed high.
Death Valley National Park falls directly between these two mountain ranges. Panamint Mountain Range is located on one side of a tilt fault block that rises as the other side, Badwater Basin, falls. The Basin continues to drop below sea level despite millions of years of water-borne salt, silt and gravels wash into it. Erosion simply cannot keep up with the dynamics of this geologic activity.
A few miles south of Furnace Creek is a nine mile one-way loop on Artist Drive through a spectacular area called Artist’s Palette. The road is narrow and very, very curvy. RV’s and campers are not allowed because of their length. The sign along one overlook gave me the story.
“More than 5 millions years ago, repeated volcanic eruptions blanketed the landscape, depositing ash and minerals. The volcanic minerals were chemically altered by heat and water, with variable amounts of oxygen and other introduced elements.”
View from an overlook
“Chemical analyses have identified a paint pot of elements: iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium, but no copper. Some of the colored minerals here include red hematite and green chlorite.”
Folded mountain peaks
“This is truly a natural artist’s palette of color splashed across the slop. The time of day, clouds, and the rare rainfall shift the intensity of the colors, making each visit slightly different.”
Unfortunately, our visit fell during the bright sunlight of midday so the colors were not as vibrant as they would have been at the suggested optimum photography time of late afternoon. Matters not for Artist Drive and Artist’s Palette was everything I’d dreamed it would be and so much more. Next stop – Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America.