My friend Tyler and I just arrived in Page, AZ (home of the Horseshoe Bend) after a long drive from Death Valley. Death Valley is a low valley in the northern Mojave desert just east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Unlike many of the National Parks in the United States, Death Valley is remarkable not for its fertile lands and thriving wildlife, but for the lack thereof.
Death Valley felt lacking not only of wildlife, but life in general. In the summer, the environment is an inhospitable 110°F doesn’t exactly make Death Valley a tourist attraction.
We did see a few other cars, but the only hotel open in the valley, The Ranch at Death Valley was nearly empty, and the roads leading into and out of the valley very sparsely trafficked.
The National Park Service’s quarterly newspaper issued in the Valley dictates not to go out hiking after 10 AM. I got the sense much of the park is intended to be seen via driving, as there did not seem to be the same set of trailheads as typically seen in national parks.
We woke before dawn and drove to Zabriskie Point to watch the sun rise over the mountains and its rays pierce into the valley. Zabriskie point has these very stark ridges; erosional patterns left from when Furnace Creek Lake dried up more than 5 million years ago.
Afterwards we went to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
The name from Badwater Basin comes from the early 1900’s when a prospector mapping out the area came upon water at the basin and found his mule would not drink from it. He labeled “bad water” on his map and the name stuck.
Stepping out onto the salt in the basin felt even hotter. Luckily we were taking this visit around 6 or 7 AM and got to enjoy a brisk 90°F. The saltiness in the water is a derivative of the path the spring water took to arrive in the basin–through many miles of rock, eroding the salt and other minerals before finally arriving in the basin.
Lastly we visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, in the morning, and during the night, to walk amongst the dunes during a full moon. I captured several pictures at night, but they’re not the greatest. The dunes are named after the Mesquite plant, native to the Southwestern USA and Northeastern Mexico, but very much an invasive species in many parts of the world.
Being in Death Valley is one of more the eerie experiences I’ve ever had, especially at night in the sand dunes. There is virtually no noise. Tyler and I both felt the sensation that we should be whispering, even though there was no life to be disturbing. When we did talk in the night amongst the dunes, it felt like our voices were swallowed by the silence, Tyler’s voice barely carrying over the dunes to reach my ears.
Walking amongst them at night, I felt the odd sensation/desire to sit down look around the dunes and gaze wishfully to see some, any kind of movement or signs of life.
As strange as it sounds, the experience made me lament the absence of Ohio’s fertile lands. Death Valley named after 13 gold prospectors (and their family members) died crossing the valley. As the remaining prospecting families, the Bennetts and Arcanes climbed out of the valley through the Panimint mountains, one of the women is reported to have said “Goodbye, Death Valley!”. Manly recounts this, and many other memories in his autobiography, Death Valley in ’49.