desert

Badwater Basin

“Hottest, Driest, Lowest”

ImageI’m really here!

Why “Badwater Basin?” The story goes that a surveyor mapping this area couldn’t get his mule to drink from this pool of water. He wrote on his map that the spring had “bad water” and the name stuck.  It isn’t poisonous—just salty.  On the subject of names, Death Valley was named by gold-seekers, some of whom died crossing the valley during the 1849 California gold rush. 

ImageBadwater Basin walkway and pool

The highest mountain in Death Valley National Park is 11,049 foot Telescope Peak; the lowest point is 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin. The vertical drop from Telescope Peak to the Badwater Basin is twice the depth of Grand Canyon.  Twice.  The.  Depth.  That isn’t apparent standing there because of the magnitude of space.  Death Valley is a place of extremes, including the world record, highest air temperature of 134 degrees F recorded in Furnace Creek Ranch on July 10, 1913. 

ImageDeath Valley’s Badwater Basin.  What a view.

The Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans lived in Death Valley for centuries before the first white man entered the valley.  This tribe followed seasonal migrations for harvesting of pinyon pine nuts and mesquite beans.  They hunted game, and for them, the land provided everything they needed.  There are many areas within the Valley that remain sacred places to the Timbisha Shoshone, whose descendents continue to live in Death Valley.

ImageSalty basin floor

The salt pan on the floor of Death Valley covers more than 200 square miles.  It is 40 miles long and more than 5 miles wide.  It is one of the largest protected salt flats in the world.  The majority of salts covering Badwater Basin is sodium chloride—better known as table salt. 
ImageSurface crushed by tourists; basin beyond

The source of these salts is Death Valley’s drainage system of 9,000 square miles of mountain ranges.  Rain falling on distant peaks creates flood and rush toward the basin.  Along the way, minerals dissolve from rocks and join the flood.  Here, at the lowest elevation, minerals concentrate until only the salts remain.  After thousands of years, enough salts have washed in to produce layer upon layer of salt crust. 

ImageLeaving Badwater Basin – window shot

Leaving Badwater Basin the road curved in such manner that I could roll down the window and fire off a shot of where we stood in the Basin.  See how small the people are in this vast, immense, amazing valley?

Over time, tourists have crushed a huge swath of salt crystals at the Badwater Basin overlook.  We walked out into the Basin as well for it was there one could feel the power and enormity of Death Valley.  An overpowering desire came over us to experience the basin standing in the middle of this incredible geologic miracle.  We threw our arms out wide, breathing in the dust of dinosaurs and the stars.  This landscape dwarfed the petty human condition and humbled me, touched my very soul, changed me. 

ImageDriving south

The Visitor Guide’s newsletter headline was “Death Valley Responds to Climate Change.”  I was interested to read that Death Valley National Park and its partners are creating new strategies in response to the uncertain future in the face of a changing climate.  Their course towards a “greener” NPS leads toward reducing paper usage, building a LEED certified visitor center and incorporating climate friendly behavior into park operations, facility management and communications.  The future is, of course, uncertain.  That’s the way futures are.  NPS acknowledges that plants and/or animals in the park may be pushed to find new homes, or succumb to threats and become extinct.  All the Park can do is continue forward to reach its goal of becoming a carbon neutral park by 2016.  There are tough questions ahead and I was very excited to learn that the Park is leading by example. 

ImageBadwater Pool

Sadly, this is likely the last installment of our Death Valley road trip.  Maybe.  I have scads of images not yet shared.  For example, we thought it would be a grand idea to take images of the roadway there and back again.  Maybe make a little movie, or photo montage.  I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything with them but they are certainly fun to look through.  Regardless, goodbye Death Valley National Park for now.  We only visited a small portion of the part due to time limitations as well as vehicular limitations.  Many interesting areas like the Racetrack and Devil’s Golf Course are down long—sometimes miles long—gravel and rocky roads only be reached in off-road vehicles with tires created for deserts filled with sharp rocks.  Goals for another day, another road trip to Death Valley National Park. 

ImageRamble on…

Death Valley National Park was not what I expected.  I didn’t expect magnificent, colorful mountain ranges.  I didn’t expect an oasis, or water standing in the basin, or salt marshes much like those we have along the Cape Fear River.  I didn’t expect feeling the same way I felt upon seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time—awe.  True awe is a physical feeling.  I truly loved this Park.

Informational Sources:  National Park Service, DesertUSA

Zabriskie Point

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Zabriskie Point

          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.

ImageManly Beacon and Park Pew

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.

Image          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.

ImagePark Pew

          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.”

Image          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.

Image          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.

ImageSources:  DesertUS, NPS/Death Valley and Wikipedia

Tecopa Hot Springs, California

ImageGrimshaw Lake

          On our way to Death Valley National Park we drove through an interesting point on the map named Tacopa Hot Springs in California.  An interesting mix of trailers, an RV park, small hotel and “official” hot springs building of sorts, the town was dotted with old cars and odd outbuildings.  We commented on the oddity of this place, and I secretly wondered why someone would come here to sit inside a hot spring that’s located inside something akin to a double-wide.  Driving in and out was a fast affair, taking somewhere along five minutes, give or take.  Out my window I glimpsed items that niggled my brain but I let it go.  I let it go.  We were going to Death Valley National Park and nothing would deter me.

          Right outside Tecopa Hot Springs was this lovely wetland located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, surrounded by salt flats leaking out from Death Valley.  We had to stop and take it in.  Bob had long whizzed past a subtle sign that I didn’t catch but figured it would be simple enough to find out later just what it is.  A wetland.  Those who know me realize how cool I think this is.  Wetlands are some of my favorite places.  A wetland in the Mojave Desert close to Death Valley made me almost giddy.  The golden grasses reminded me of the salt marshes where I live.  As well, I was reminded of our trek through Kansas with its fields and fields of gold.  Sting’s Fields of Gold was playing in my head. 

ImageGrimshaw Lake

          Now home and preparing to write this blog I Googled Tecopa Hot Springs to learn about this wetlands. It is Grimshaw Lake, a great birding locale and protected wetland.  Spring and fall migratory birds swarm to the marshes and canyons in this area.  There were many ducks swimming about and some wading birds off in the distance. 

          The grandeur of this place touched deeply within my soul.  So quiet I could hear the ducks quibbling among themselves far, far away.  It was a chilly morning.  My hands noticed the cold as I took photos.  Those hot springs came to mind.

ImageGrimshaw Lake

          Tecopa Hot Springs was originally called Yaga.  Yaga was the largest Native American Paiute settlement in the region.  Clearly, the hot springs, wildlife and wetlands was a huge draw but also proximity to the trading routes that became known as the Old Spanish Trail.  Eventually, a series of mining camps were build here in the late 1800s.  These camps were named after Tecopa, a Paiute leader who was famous for negotiating peace during those turbulent times. 

          Today, winter travelers flock here to take advantage of the warm springs.  The spa and accommodations look decent online and the area itself is gorgeous.  There is a large labyrinth made from rocks collected from the region.  The Yaga labyrinth is named in honor of the original settlement of the indigenous Paiute peoples.  Tecopa Hot Springs turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  There’s an art gallery, a bistro, hot mineral baths, star gazing is encouraged, full moon hikes in the desert and the labyrinth experience is free.  Their mission:

“We see ourselves as a group of individuals

of like mind and heart committing to thinking and acting

positively.

We see ourselves as stewards

of a sacred land

and ambassadors of goodwill.

Our Mission is to create

a self-sustaining enterprise that serves and engages local

communities and visitors from around the world.

Our aim is to see that every person drawn into our

enterprise takes away something wonderful, an experience

that is hard to describe in words.”

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          Learning about Tecopa Hot Springs was humbling to me.  In my haste to see the larger event – Death Valley – I snubbed, or rushed though what could have been a wonderful experience along the way.  I’m better than that.  My tendency is to avoid people and seek out nature, but … people are nature, too.  I keep forgetting that.  Tecopa Hot Springs is my kind of place.  Not fussy, not overblown, it’s real and humble.  The trappings aren’t what’s important – it’s The Experience.  Note to self.

Mojave Desert

ImageShadowland

Over winter holiday in Nevada the hubs and I took what turned out to be our favorite day trip ever to Death Valley National Park.  Death Valley is located within the Mojave Desert, the smallest of the four North American deserts.  The name “Mojave” comes from the Native American word “Hamakhaave,” which means “beside the water.”  Long ago there was much more water here but geologic forces over time raised moountain ranges effectively shutting off most of the rainfall.  The Mojave is a “rainshadow” desert, which is an area of dry land on the leeward side of a mountain range.  High mountains on the west block the movements of wet winter storms.

ImageTypical Mojave Desert valley plants

The Mojave is known as “high desert,” with elevation ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 feet.  It changes from a cold desert in the northern section and a hot desert in the southern section.  The is also a transition desert from the Sonoran Desert to the Great  Basin.  In excess of 25,000 square miles the Mojave occupies portions of southeastern California as well as Nevada, Arizona and Utah.  The Park comprises of more than 3.3 million acres of amazing scenery.  It is also unique in that it contains the lowest, hottest and driest location in North America – Badwater Basin in Death Valley.  Nearly 550 square miles of its area lies below sea level.

ImageLeaving Tacopa

Key areas in the Mojave Desert are Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Monument, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Mojave National Preserve.  The Mojave is home to more than 200 endemic species.  “Endemic” species are organisms that ONLY live in a particular location on earth and are naturally found nowhere else.

ImageSense of Place

We left Las Vegas well before dawn for Death Valley National Park.  Follow along with us on our journey if you wish.  The route we took: I-215 to Highway 160 west (Blue Diamond Road).  West on Tacoma Road which changes to Old Spanish Trail Highway as it crossed into California.  North on Highway 127 through Shoshone to Death Valley Junction.  West on Highway 190 into the Death Valley National Park and various stops (Zabriskie Point, Furnace Creek), south on Badwater Road/highway 178 (Artist’s Pallette and Badwater Basin) and out the 178 to Pahrump and back to Las Vegas.  More to come….

Sources:  DesertUSA.com, the National Park Service and the Mojave Desert Land Trust.

Reflections

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It’s all in how you see things….

Recently, we shared our home with two friends; Bo from Wisconsin stayed one week followed by Al from Texas who stayed the following week.

Early in Al’s visit he and I walked the beach looking for shark’s teeth and treasures.  He remarked that the beach isn’t his favorite place because it never changes.  Imagine my surprise.  Our friend is an avid explorer with a remarkable curiosity that I admire.  All environments change daily, minutely, assuredly.  Because I photograph this beach on a weekly, sometime daily basis I have never been disappointed by its diversity of mood.  Our amazing earth delights me – desert, prairie, river, sea …. meadow, mountain, forest, canyon … grassland, farmland, tundra, rainforest.  This planet changes daily, either minutely or in grand ways.  The trick is to sit still and notice, appreciate them all for what they are without judgement.  Al has documented incredible beauty in Texas with the promise to introduce me to the luscious diversity of his environment when we visit.  I am really looking forward to seeing his world. 

The week before our Texas friend arrived we had the pleasure of hosting one of my Wisconsin blogging friends for a week.  Bo, a remarkable woman and incredible nature photographer – had shared with me through our many animated conversations her thoughts on taking that first shot in the wilds.  First, she sits quietly until the buzz and hum of nature creeps into her soul.  She listens for birds and insects and the cracks and snaps of nature.  She smells the air for subtle scents.  She journals her feelings about the place and how it makes her feel.  She begins to look closely at her surroundings, noticing the light, angles, shapes, geometry and colors.  Only then does she consider her first shot. That, my friends, blew me away. I often simply begin clicking just because it’s there without actually noticing what’s before me.  That sounds odd, but its true.  Five years ago I found Bo’s blog skimming the blogroll of another friend.  Its title caught my attention – Seeded Earth.  Well, that is just so “me.”  Over time we have become fast friends – soul friends. 

Certain people have a gift for truly living and seeing our world in all its glory.  Bo and Al’s visits freshened my vision of my beach and its various habitats – maritime forest, salt marsh, brackish river, ocean and sand – and I fell in love with it all over again.  Al eventually saw the beauty of salt marsh and beach after a week of “immersion therapy.”  He left here refreshed and fully appreciative of the beauty of this place.  Thank you my Texas and Wisconsin friends for your wisdom and your forever friendship – you both bring such joy into my life.  Each of you in your own way reassures me, accepts me, lifts me up and teaches me new appreciation for the blessings before me.