Posted by: martinworster | April 22, 2014

Death Valley

Ubehebe Crater - Death Valley

Ubehebe Crater – Death Valley

We’ve become quite adept at desert camping now. Last year we did two nights at Anza Borrego State Park and now we’ve just got back from two nights in Death Valley. I know it sounds a tad pretentious – bring out the crystals, sage and peyote – but there really is something spiritual about spending time in the desert. All that desolate open space, aridness, the vivid sunsets, stars and lack of people really does something for the soul….Taxi!

Golden Canyon - Death Valley

Golden Canyon – Death Valley

This spiritualism was particularly apparent to me on our first night when we had to camp in howling winds. At sunset there was a bit of wind – small gusts and flurries – which I thought would subside as darkness fell. I was wrong. Trying to sleep in a tent which has doubled over on itself to the point where the roof is touching your face is difficult. If it wasn’t for us being in it the tent would have blown away. Worried, I drove the car right in front of the tent in the direction of the wind thinking it would offer shelter – it didn’t. The most fascinating thing about the wind was the sounds. You could hear the whistle of the wind forming, or at least advancing, from further down the valley – then the volume would increase until thirty seconds later the wind hit you, knocking the tent over. This kept on in waves – the wind would die down, then the whistling and howling would start again and it would be attack time again. It was a sleepless night. But fascinating. I’ve never experienced wind like that, it must be a unique phenomena to a desert valley the way it formed and kept coming in cycles. It also gave me an interesting insight into how Native American’s – the Shoshone tribe lived in Death Valley – form of animism would have given names and personality to natural phenomena such as this. The wind really did have a malevolent spirit quality to it.

Chocolate Lunar - Death Valley

Chocolate Lunar – Death Valley

Death Valley feels very elemental. Nothing but sand and minerals, vast expanses of desolate flat land and endless, endless sky. Before going I didn’t know what to expect. Death Valley? What’s the point in going – there’s nothing there? There’s plenty there. And also plenty of nothing – which is actually part of the appeal. On the drive out of the south side of the valley we probably drove three hours and the scenery didn’t change much – and there’s no mobile phone coverage (also a bonus). The lack of change gave the beauty a unique repetitiveness. Looking to the west we could even see snow capped peaks – as part of the Sierra range, Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in continental US is due West. A lot of people take four wheel drives as there’s obviously a lot of opportunity for off roading – one sight that we wanted to see but didn’t is the Sailing Rocks (stones that mysteriously move across the valley floor) mainly as it takes three hours of off roading to get to it. Next time I’ll take my Jeep.

Vanilla Matterhorn - Death Valley

Vanilla Matterhorn – Death Valley

It’s definitely a place of extremes – it’s billed as the driest and lowest place in the US. Also the hottest in the world – Furnace Creek, near where we camped, holds the record for the highest reliably reported air temperature in the world, 134 °F (56.7 °C) on July 10, 1913. That’s why it’s not really possible to camp any time later than April as it just gets too hot. Luckily the temperature didn’t really exceed 90 °F peak time in the day and as there was wind throughout our whole stay it made it feel cooler. We even felt a slight sprinkle of rain for ten minutes on our first night (eh, I though this was billed as the driest place in the US, or is that just a silly marketing slogan?). One slight annoyance was the clouds getting in the way of our nighttime star gazing, which due to lack of light pollution is meant to be amazing here.

Badlands - Death Valley

Badlands – Death Valley

American National Parks are quite well run and Death Valley is no different in that all the major places of interest are well marked. We ticked off the main ‘must sees’ – Zabriskie Point (amazing views of the badlands, also the name of a great film by Michelangelo Antonioni), Ubehebe Crater (into which we hiked), Mesquite Flat sand dunes, Devils Golf Course, Badwater Basin (lowest point in US at 282 feet below sea level), Golden Canyon and Artists Drive. The scenery and colours of the rocks are amazing as due to volcanic activity the geology of the region has revealed many minerals, many of which have been mined over the years, including bauxite and of course gold. Artists Drive stands out for the amazing palette of pastels in the rocks – sands, amber, salmon pinks, grey blues, red and rusty reds. The views are mesmerizing and quite unlike anything I’ve seen…

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