#21 Death Valley National Park, CA
I dropped my husband off at the Las Vegas airport early in the morning and made my way to Death Valley National Park.
Another apology for the the pictures is in order. It was supposed to be 78 degrees and sunny the day I was in Death Valley...supposed to be. It was in the 50's, overcast, and rainy. The Ice Age Queen strikes again.
Meeting me in Death Valley was Nickcki Guzman (a childhood friend of my husband's) and her husband, Tony. The weather wasn't great, but their hospitality sure was! They got there early and procured a campsite for us, drove me around on our hikes, and cooked dinner and breakfast for me. Many thanks to the Guzman's for their incredible kindness.
Death Valley is an ominous place but there is whimsy there also. It looks rather dull and lifeless; especially on a cold, rainy, windy day, but it is filled with color and wonder if you take the time to get up close.
So let's talk about industry in Death Valley. (Ha! Fooled you! You thought I was going to drone on about geology.) As the pictures above show, there was gold mining going on, but it wasn't that lucrative. In 1849 gold was discovered in Death Valley, but as you might suspect it wasn't the most hospitable place to mine. It's scarce on fuel and water, transportation was difficult and expensive, and the temperatures in the valley made Hell look like an underachiever.
In 1883 Borax (borates) were found in the valley and were mined successfully for 5 years. Again, transportation was an issue. But this time someone created a Twenty Mule Team that pulled giant wagons loaded with Borax. Every 4 days a wagon would leave Death Valley to make a delivery date. I'm sure you have all seen the boxes of Borax in the laundry section of the market. They are called Twenty Mule Team to commemorate the mules and men who mined in that harsh environment.
As we were walking across the landscape, seeking a secret trail, we saw large white particles on the ground. I thought it was salt and tried a taste...nope, it was borax. Yuck! I had that taste in my mouth all day and couldn't get rid of it!
Death Valley appears to be, well, dead, but there are several species of Pup Fish that live here. A Pup Fish has evolved over thousands of years to be able to live in hot and salty water. They can survive in 90 degree water and in salinity 5 times that of the ocean! It is incredible and they are only an inch long!
Speaking of salt; we went to Badwater and walked out into the salt flats. It is a surreal experience everyone should have once in their lives. You walk on bright, white, salt out into an expansive valley. The "road" is lumpy; if you trip, fall and scrape your hands and knees...it's gonna hurt. Badwater may be where the expression, "putting salt in your wounds" originated. Who knows?
That is solid salt!
I was a little surprised to see a sign for Natural Arch on the map. We hiked into an area that was more like Capital Reef than the Death Valley we had just experienced in Badwater. I'm not certain what kind of rock it is carved from but it has a major crack in it and probably won't be standing much longer.
The next day I traveled to Stovepipe Wells and visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It had rained quite a bit the night before so the road had acquired a lot of water in the low points. Splashing through them totally destroyed my conceptions of Death Valley as unbearably dry.
And then it was time to head on down the road towards Great Basin National Park, and a long, lonely road it was.