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Death Valley California - When folks hear the name "Death Valley" they conjure up the thought that who would want to
visit a place with a name like that? But the fact of the matter is, that everyone I have had the pleasure to introduce this most amazing
landscape to was simply delighted with the place after a few days of exploration. It is a land of contrasts and paradoxes. The subtle
colors and unique lighting of the landscape turns out to be a place of solitude and beauty for all those who take the time out to explore
this most beautiful and unique National Park.
Death Valley still has it's harsh side, however. Eight months out of the year Death Valley records triple digit temperatures. No place in
the western hemisphere comes close to this type of heat. And with only 1/2 inch of average rainfall this only adds to the harshness.
Most water from the few passing clouds evaporates before it even hits the ground. We hope that you will find that this series on Death
Valley in Timberline Trails will be a good guide to introduce you to both the harshness and beauty of Death Valley
|Death Valley, California - Home Page timberlinetrails.net
Many popular trails in Death Valley National Park follow side canyons, often quite
narrow, and surrounded pretty, multi-colored, layered rocks. To the left, you see a
photo of the lower end of Mosaic Canyon located on the west side of Death Valley
close to Stovepipe Wells. Just west of the village is a dirt road the extends about 2.5
miles leading to the foothills of the Tucki Mountain. At the end you will come to a
parking area just below the opening of the marble canyon.
As you can see to the left, the narrow passageways have beautiful marbelised rock,
polished smooth and quite variable in color. Hiking the canyon is great fun, and during
the late afternoon, the lighting is quite spectacular in the canyon. It is also a great place
to take kids. The smooth rock provides little slides and interesting climbing challenges
for the young ones (not to say that us older folks won't get plenty of enjoyment out of
the little slides and stepping stones)
Mosaic Canyon derives its name from the polished rock breccias that curve through its
narrows. The term breccia means fragments in Italian and refers to pieces of rock held
together in a natural cement. The rock has since been polished smooth by water into
some of the intricate and beautiful patterns.
The narrows as seen to the left stretch out for about a half a mile before the canyon
opens up into an airy amphitheater. After walking about 2 miles from the parking lot,
the terrain turns much more difficult, and most people stop there.
To the right, is a photo of Devils Golf
Course. Well named, because it would
certainly be a golfers nightmare to play on.
Usually salt pans are flat and dry. But here in
Death Valley, saline groundwater continually
seeps to the surface, and evaporates to form
incredible deposits of salt crystals.
Walking across a landscape like this is a real
ankle buster. The salt flat sprawl out over
hundreds of acres of flatland near "Bad
Water" which is the lowest point in the
Beneath the uppermost salt crust are
alternating layers of old lakebed sediments
and salt that continue down at least 1500 feet.
You will find that each year Devils Golf
Course is a place of constant change.
To the left you see our truck navigating through
"Twenty Mule Team Canyon." A road was put in
place in this mudstone badlands area in the late
The canyon was most likely never used by the
mule team, but the hills contain millions of tons of
ore. But mining never took off here, because of its
remote location. Nevertheless, the Mule Team
Canyon contains at least 26 different borate
Late afternoon is a great time to drive the canyon
because the low angle of lighting will bring out the
beautiful colors of the area. It is also a fun drive,
and when my kids were young, I used to let them
steer the truck through the narrows. It was great
fun for them!!
Scotty's Castle to the right is a wonderful place to
visit if you have the time to drive to its remote
location. The structures were built in the 1920's
when the Mojave was better known for its
ramshackle miners dwellings.
Scotty was a colorful character, and was known for
his knack for telling tall tales. Scotty never
amounted to much as a prospector, but he was
great at mining gold out of other peoples pockets.
And many wealthy men ended up investing in his
fictitious gold mine supposedly located in Death
Albert Johnson ended up in the end being Scotty's
best investor. But Johnson, much to Scotty's
surprise, wanted to see the mine and it was not long
before Johnson realized that the mine was a hoax.
But Albert Johnson enjoyed the his gold seeking travels with Scotty so
much, that he ended up building the above magnificent mansion in the
middle of no where in Death Valley. Although the so-called castle was built
entirely with the Johnson's money, they encouraged Scotty's tall tale about
building it with the treasure from his gold mine. That way Scotty received
all the public attention which he craved, and the Johnson's enjoyed their
privacy at their retreat.
To the left, you see a photo of Death Valley's Racetrack. The movingrocks
of the Racetrack are the Northern Mojave's most famous geologic puzzle.
The Racetrack involves a detour of many miles on a washboard type dirt
What makes this playa so unusual is the tracks that the moving rocks leave
behind. Skidding boulders that can weigh up to several hundred pounds
have moved as far as 660 feet or more across the smooth surface. The
surrounding clay pan stretches off in all directions, cracked into two to
three inch wide polygons. fern-like impressions left behind by winter ice
crystals decorate the mud. Ans if you look across the playa, you will be
able to see a nice little sheen if the lighting is right.
So if you can take the bone rattling ride across the washboard, it is well
worth a visit to the Racetrack.
To the right, you see a hiker rounding the beautiful
contours of "Eureka Dunes." Rising 700 feet
above the desert floor below, Eureka Dunes are
among the tallest sand dunes in the western
hemisphere. In the background, you see the
blue-grey mountains known as the "Last Chance
As you can see to the right, the dunes are
especially dramatic on windy days. Grains of sand
and dried seedpods are swept along the ridges
forming beautiful vistas. Got to look out for you
camera though. Not a good place to change lenses
on your SLR. Sand gets into everything, so if you
have delicate equipment, take special care to
protect it. The dunes were made part of Death
Valley National Park in 1983.
Death Valley as mentioned in the beginning is a
land of beautiful contrast. To the left, you see
Joshua trees growing at an elevation of
approximately 4,000 feet. Death Valley is also
home to Telescope Peak that towers above the
below sea level planes at an elevation of 11,049
feet. It is one of the greatest drop offs in North
Incredible differences in temperature throughout
Death Valley. From blazingly hot temperatures on
the floor to freezing temperatures and snow in the
upper elevations. A rough rule of thumb for dry air
is that temperatures drop 3-4 degrees F for each
1,000 feet of increased altitude. Higher elevations
also sport more moisture that is required for the
Joshua trees to flourish.
Death Valley is also home to many mining relics that have been
left behind over the years. To the right you see just one of these
structures. It is located in the Ibex dunes area. There are many
underground caves and mining shafts too. It is ill advised,
however, to explore these underground caverns and structures.
Many can be unstable and a cave in could very well be deadly.
But they do make for great subjects for photographs and add
much to the feeling of by-gone days. I am always amazed at
how man will go to the most remote areas on earth and put in an
incredible of work just for the long shot of getting rich. In the
end most dreams ended up being just that a dream, and many a
prospector came away with only a hand full of dirt and a sore
Even though gold and silver were certainly found in the area, the
greater treasures ended up being minerals such as gypsum,
sulfur, lead, salt, talc, borax, and clay. Large scale extraction of
these substances proved to be far more profitable then the glitter
of gold and silver in the long run.
When you think of Death Valley, one thinks of
sand dunes, salt flats, desert brush and such, but
who would think of a volcanic crater. But to the
left you see an example of volcanic activity in the
form of Ubehebe Crater. It is located 10 miles
from Scotty's Castle. Geologists classify Ubehebe
Crater as an explosion pit. During the initial
eruption that occurred more than 2000 years ago,
ash and cinders spewed out over 6 square miles
and formed a hole nearly 700 feet deep and a half
There is a trail to the bottom of the crater, and it is
worth taking to get a different perspective of the
area if you have the energy to make the climb
back up. The erosion-cut gullies on the crater's
outer west side reveal alternating light and dark
layers of ash deposit that create a unique beauty.
To the right, you see the Panamint Mountains
reflected in a pool of water that was formed during
a record winter rainfall season in 2005. The
Panamint and Inyo ranges support etensive stands
of limber and Great Basin bristlecone pine.
The Panamints also host Telescope Peak at
11,049 feet above sea level, which is the highest
point in Death Valley.
It is interesting the tree line in the desert is much
lower than in the Sierra Nevada which lies not far
to the west. Tree line in the Panamints is around
6,000 to 7,000 feet, where as in the Sierra
Nevada, tree line is around 12,000 feet. This is
most likely due to the reduced moisture of this
harsh desert environment.
Saratoga Springs to the left is another amazing
place of contrast within the borders of Death
Valley. Reeds and bulrushes rustle in the breeze,
breaking the silence of what would in most times
of the day be a dead silence.
Also notice the pools of water in the foreground.
The water comes from spring-fed pools. The
springs come forth at the base of Ibex Hills. They
sustain more than 15 acres of wetlands including
pools that are the only home of the Saratoga
The Saratoga Springs wetlands shelter many other
animals including five rare invertebrates. At least
150 species of birds visit the area including
waterfowl that rest here during long distant spring
and fall migrations.
Artist Palette shown to the right is an amazing
display of all kinds of colors. As the rocks weather
and erode, their sediments splash the hillside with
an unusual array of colors, including green, purple,
mustard, and orange-tan. The colors result from
the mixing of red and yellow iron oxides with
minerals found in volcanic ash.
There is also a great road that takes you through
all this magnificent terrain called Artists Drive.
Late afternoon is the time to be in this area,
because the low angle lighting gives the natural
colors in the rock a special glow.
Many desert artists have been inspired by this
special area of Death Valley, and some of the
paintings of this area are hung in the Furnace
In the 1920's when Death Valley's boosters wanted to find a scenic view-point
that would attract tourists, they asked old-timer Charles Brown of Shoshone if
he knew of a good spot, he said "I don't pay much attention to scenery, but I
know one view that mad me stop and look" He took them to a cliff that rose
over a mile straight up above Badwater and showed them what is now known
as "Dante's View" which is shown in the photo to the left.
From this viewpoint, you can see clean across Death Valley to Telescope Peak
that rises more than two miles above the desert floor, to the snow capped
Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west that rise nearly three miles above sea
level. To the north, east, and south, range after range of mountains crest like
breaking waves as far as the eye can see.
Sufficiently impressed, the promoters rounded up the funding and had Brown
build a road to the spot. In keeping with Death Valley's devilish theme for
place names, they named it as indicated above as Dante's View.
Dante's View is set atop the steep western escarpment of the Black Mountains,
and as you can see to the left, the view is nothing short of spectacular. Believe
me, no photo could ever capture the grandeur that the human eye can behold,
and there is nothing that can take the place of being there in person.
I find that the scale in Death Valley is absolutely awe inspiring. It makes one
feel so small. I find that the solitude that this amazing place provides helps one
reflect on the more important things in life, and for me that is how awesome
our creator God really is.
To the right and below, you see photos of
the Badwater area in Death Valley. This
section is 279 feet below sea level, which
makes it near the lowest point in the
western hemisphere. I say near, because a
few miles to the west there is actually a
spot that is three feet lower at 282 feet
below sea level which is the lowest point in
the western hemisphere.
This low point is actually sitting on a 9,000
foot deep accumulation of sand, silt and
gravel. Badwater also claims the honor of
being (debatable) the hottest place in the
world, for on one July day in 1913 Furnace
Creek recorded a record temperature of
134 degrees F, and this led many to believe
that Badwater some miles away south
would have been 140 degrees.
To the right you see the 25 foot tall charcoal kilns the were
used to convert pinyon and juniper wood (which was plentiful
in the Panamints) into charcoal. The charcoal was then used to
fuel the smelters in the nearby Argus Range where wood was
scarce. Wildrose Canyon which hosts the charcoal kilns is
accessible from Death Valley via Emigrant Canyon Road or
from Panamint Valley via Trona-Wildrose Road.
The kilns were built in the spring of 1877. The kilns were able
to produce 3,000 bushels of charcoal daily, which was needed
by the Modoc's smelters.
I have visited the kilns a few times, and it is amazing that they
still smell of wood smoke, even though they have not been used
for over a hundred years.
The 140 degrees would thus top the
136 degree F that was recorded in Al
Aziziyah, Libya in 1922. The small,
spring-fed pool that you see to the
left originates along the fault zone at
the base of the Black Mountains.
The water is extremely saline, but it
is not poisonous. It also provides a
mirror type surface during calm days
in the morning, and many a
spectacular photo has been taken of
the Panamints reflected in the pool.
The pool also supports an amazing
variety of life, such as the Badwater
snail, and other life forms.
I find that a trip out to Badwater is a
must if you visit Death Valley. Try
and go in the early morning hours
when the lighting is most beautiful.
Death Valley also has many colorful crossroads out in the middle of no-where.
Teakettle Junction shown to the left is just one of such interesting forks in the
road. This desert crossroad is marked by a sign post decorated with just about
every kind of teapot, from well-worn silver plate to dented enamel.
I have had the privilege of traveling many of Death Valley's back roads, and I
have to say that it never ceases to amaze me of the creative shenanigans that the
old timers of yesterday dreamed up.
The area to the right is known as the
"Devil's Corn Field." The field is
made up of Arroweed which grows
in the alkaline soils at Death Valley.
Arrowweed is a member of the
Sunflower Family. It appears as a
large brushy shrub and has adopted
to blowing sand and soil erosion by
growing in clumps resembling corn
shocks. Leaves are grayish green
and narrow to 1.5 inches in length
and grow all along the stems of the
The plant tolerates lightly saline
water. Note the sand dunes in the
background. Both early morning and
late afternoon are a good time for
photographers to take advantage of
this unique scene.
inch of average rainfall this only adds to the harshness. Most water from the few passing clouds evaporates before it even hits the
Well that's about it for our introduction on Death Valley. Prayerfully we will be adding much more on this most spectacular locations in
the future. So stay tuned.
Hiking in Death Valley allows you to
see so much more than those who
are tied to their vehicles. But make
sure you are prepared for harsh
conditions if you go in the summer.
In 120 degree heat, the sun saps 3
quarts of water out of the body per
hour. A man attempted to walk
across the valley with 3 quarts of
water. After 7 days, he dropped dead
within 1/2 mile of his truck which
contained 6 gallons of water. His
body had lost 50 percent of its
weight, his skin was hard leather,
and his face appeared mummified.
Eight months out of the year death
valley records triple digit
temperatures. No place in the
western hemisphere comes close to
this type of heat. And with only 1/2
Crankcase junction shown to the right is
another interesting road marker that has
old crankshafts hanging from the sign,
along with old auto parts strewn around
And this is only the beginning of
interesting artifacts that are all around in
the desert. Also, making your way
around on some of the less traveled
roads, you will discover all sorts of
history left behind just waiting for