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Death Valley National Park - Photos and Impressions of Extremes
Travel Destination Extraordinaire!
This amazing national park has extremes in terms of temperatures ranging from sizzling highs to frigid lows. It has elevations from hundreds of feet below sea level to thousands of feet high. It experiences some of the driest conditions in the United States while sitting on top of one of the country's largest aquifers and there is much more.
Come along with my friend and me as we did some exploring of Death Valley while on vacation a number of years ago. Many pictures were taken and will be shared in this post.
My traveling companion and I were to visit ten national parks as well as other interesting sites on a fantastic road trip from Houston, Texas to California and back in 1998. After seeing the grandeur of parks like the Grand Canyon and the majesty of parks like Yosemite, Death Valley surprised and delighted us both.
You will definitely want a guide such as we had when visiting this massive national park. It will help you plan your days and keep you in the right areas of the park.
Largest National Park!
Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower 48 states of the United States and contains 3.3 million acres. Obviously one could spend a lifetime exploring just this one park and we had only allotted several days.
May was the month of our visit and the springtime flowers were putting on quite a show both in the mountainous areas of the park as well as the below sea level desert floor.
The colors in the rocks of Death Valley were multi hued and beautiful to behold.
Most of Death Valley to this day is wilderness. There are countless numbers of places to hike and explore and most visitors to this national park enjoy coming in the winter and spring of the year when the temperatures are more moderate.
There are some hearty souls (many of them from other countries) who purposely visit Death Valley in the summer of each year because they want to experience the extreme temperatures. May was hot enough for my friend and me!
The desert does cool off at night but during the day while hiking one must be sure to carry enough water with one to stay hydrated.
Most of Death Valley National Park is located in California with a small eastern portion located in the State of Nevada. There are many roads both paved and unpaved that run through this park and all of them are well marked.
Death Valley National Park
Photos of Mountains and Sand Dunes in Death ValleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort
Reservations had been made ahead of time for us to stay at this oasis within Death Valley National Park. It is truly an oasis in the middle of the desert.
There are two distinct lodgings. There is a historic 66 room Inn at Furnace Creek and the very family friendly 224 room Ranch at Furnace Creek. My friend and I chose to stay at the Ranch and were delighted with the accommodations.
In the middle of an arid desert arises a veritable oasis where the spring fed Furnace Creek brings life. It has housed resident Indians in this location for numerous years. Next came the Forty-Niners, discovery of Borax mining and now tourists arrive in droves to rest and relax after a day of enjoying the sites in Death Valley.
Scenery at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death ValleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Death Valley Museum
Relics of the old gold rush days as well as the famous 20 mule team borax transport vehicles and other interesting things can be found on the grounds of Furnace Creek Ranch.
Wagons that carried the ever important and life sustaining water to gold crushing equipment to old locomotives that hauled ore from the nearby mines...that and more can be seen up close on the grounds adjacent to the museum.
It comprises quite an exhibit for history buffs or just for those curious onlookers who find themselves in this part of Death Valley National Park.
Some of those massive wooden wheels were taller than my friend who accompanied me on this trip!
It is well worth spending a bit of time in this area just to see these relics and learn a bit more about the history of this area in days of the past.
Images Seen on the Museum Grounds at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death ValleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
This was our first adventure of the day in Death Valley after we had enjoyed that refreshing swim in the Furnace Creek pool. Oh to have lazed around the pool all day would have been fun but we had more of the park to see!
The hike into Golden Canyon takes one on a path which rises about 300 feet (91 meters) and one can plan on spending about an hour and a half or more depending upon just how many photos one decides to take of the myriad rock colors which present themselves along the way.
Again one is advised to not go too long without hydration. The warmth of the sun heats up those rocks and it must seem like a blast oven in the middle of the summer!
The sheer beauty of what one gets to see up close as one goes hiking makes Golden Canyon a destination worth one's while.
Devil's Golf Course
Can you imagine the sheer horror on the faces of pioneers traveling in wagon trains headed west when they got to this area?
A sign at this site portrays the following:
- "DEVILS GOLF COURSE
Interbedded salt and water-bearing gravels are more than 1,000 feet thick beneath the devil's golf course. Great horizontal forces exerted by crystalizing salt, push these columns upward. Wind and rain carve them into fantastic shapes."
We and other tourists walked gingerly on these rough and irregular shapes being careful not to fall. The jagged shapes could probably easily cut one's skin if a mishap occurred.
Obviously those pioneers would have had to find another way around this obstacle in Death Valley on their westward journey.
A short hike which was only about 1/2 mile took us to another location in Death Valley National Park called the Natural Bridge.
Amazingly tucked into the nooks and crannies of these desert floor rocks are blooming plants. Some of them look to be quite delicate. Rainstorms can literally awaken long dormant seeds in the ground and bring forth emerging plants some of which have beautiful flowers.
At 282 feet below sea level this is reputed to be the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and what greets one's view is a white flat sea of salt with mountains rising in the distance. Small pools of undrinkable water are also present depending upon rainfall.
Be sure and wear your sunglasses when you explore this area!
Ashford Mill Ruins
This became our lunch spot one day!
The name of this part of Death Valley National Park was of particular interest to me as I have dabbled with paintings and other forms of art. Just as I have had a mixture of different colors on my artist's palette...the colors in the rocks in this part of Death Valley certainly lived up to their assigned name.
These photos do not do justice to the vibrant mix of hues found here but it will at least give you some impression of what can be found were you to visit.
As in all desert scenery and most other scenery for that matter the time of day and lighting factors can cause these colors to fade or intensify depending upon conditions at the time.
Salt Creek Pupfish
Visitors to Death Valley National Park have the rare opportunity to view up close fish that are truly living fossils. The small pupfish has over thousands of years adapted from living in fresh water to salt water. Boardwalks take one alongside the Salt Creek where one can see these tiny fish wiggling their way through the shallow water.
Endangered Pupfish in Death Valley
Anyone of a certain age (mine certainly!) will remember the old radio and television series showcasing the 20 mule teams in Death Valley hauling their heavy loads of ore down from the mountains. It gave a distinct flavor to what was portrayed of the Old West.
My friend and I traveled the graded one way road into the 20 Mule Team Canyon and got to see some of the areas where those teams of mules and miners would have been operating. At one time there were hundreds of mines and people are warned to stay out of them if discovered while hiking as they could be very dangerous. Gradually they are being sealed off.
Undoubtedly the mules and miners did not have such a smooth road to traverse back in those days and this part of the Death Valley National Park is certainly worth viewing.
My car was put through its paces getting to this wonderful spot around 5,475 feet above sea level to be able to enjoy this panoramic view of Death Valley. One can easily see the white salt flats of Badwater Basin some 282 feet below sea level from this vantage point.
In the distance are the mountains of the High Sierra rising some 14,000 feet and providing a dramatic backdrop.
My traveling companion and I enjoyed the meadows filled with a profusion of spring flowering plants and took many photos. This was our last purposeful site to visit in Death Valley National Park before moving on to other adventures as we headed back in the direction of home.
Flowers in Meadow Leading Up To Dante's ViewClick thumbnail to view full-size
While we did not get to see everything in this largest of all national parks in the lower 48 states we did our best in the days allotted. Attached videos can show you more of what there is to be seen and enjoyed if you are interested.
Hopefully you will have gotten an idea by way of my photos and written impressions of the extremes that are to be found in Death Valley National Park. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and know that you will also if you ever get to see Death Valley in person.
Have you ever visited or would you wish to visit Death Valley National Park?
Additional photos from Death ValleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
© 2010 Peggy Woods