First stop in Death Valley National Park is an amazing area called Zabriskie Point. Despite the number of tourists clambering up a long slope toward the outlook it was quiet as a tomb. Everyone spoke softly, with reverence. Zabriskie Point is named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, Vice President and General Manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th Century. The company’s twenty mule teams were used to transport Borax from its mining operation in Death Valley.
Signs told us what we were seeing and gave us history: “Three to five million years ago – before the deepest part of Death Valley had formed – shimmering lakes filled a long, mountain-rimmed valley here. Fine silt and volcanic ash washed into the lake, settling to the bottom, ultimately creating the thick deposit of clay, sandstone and siltstone that make up the Furnace Creek Formation. These once-level layers are being tilted by seismic activity and pressure that is folding the ancient valley’s floor. As the layers are lifting and exposed, periodic rainstorms cause powerful gullywashers that erode the soft rocks into the chaotic yet strangely beautiful landscape we see today.” Camels, mastodon, horses, carnivores and birds left their tracks in the muds all along this area, known as Furnace Creek Formation. Some of these fossils can be seen on display at the Borax Museum in Furnace Creek.
Manly Beacon is named after William L. Manly, who along with John Rogers, guided members of the ill-fated Forty-Niners out of Death Valley during the gold rush of 1849.
Slowly climbing up, up, up to the overlook, stopping to catch my breath and take it all in I embraced the vast spaces around me. It was almost to much to take in – like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. I’ve always said Nature is my church and Zabriskie Point is by far one of its grander sanctuaries. A disconnect occurred between this vision before me and my beating heart, my lungs filling with desert air, my ears straining to hear the earth’s noises. Then it came to me – it isn’t that people are talking differently but that their noises are being whisked away into the incredible space and distance before us. Instead of ricocheting back to me voices had no choice but to continue down and out, to the mountains beyond and basin below.
Youth have no fear. They scuttled down slippery, gravelly paths not made by the park service, despite posted warnings. Teenagers and young adults wandered down to a low hill to take selfies and photos with their phones. One young lady balanced precariously on a ledge for her photo opp. My stomach did a slow roll. My husband called it “evolution at work.”
Death Valley National Park falls directly between two mountain ranges – Panamint Mountain Range to the west and Amargosa Mountain Range to the east. You can see Panamint Mountain Range above, on the other side of Badwater Basin. I’ll get more into the dynamics of these ranges later.
There are no guardrails. Instead, low rock walls, likely built by the CCC, house the informational signs while offering a clear, unobstructed view to the grandeur. Zabriskie Point was an impressive first stop in our Death Valley National Park road trip.