Akkana & David Visit Death Valley

This is a work in progress; more photos may be uploaded later. Last updated 4/30/98.

Day One: Trona, Badwater and the Artist's Drive

The first day, we drove as far as Ridgecrest, which turned out to be a surprisingly nice town, with a network of BLM-managed, mountain-bike-legal trails just south of town and a view of an observatory up high in the mountains to the southeast.

[Trona Pinnacles] The next day, we headed for Death Valley. But first, we made a stop at the Trona Pinnacles. These tufa spires (like the ones at Mono Lake though a different color) are imposing and otherworldly. [Trona Pinnacles]
Best of all, no one seems to know about this place, and we had the Pinnacles almost entirely to ourselves. Even better, from Trona we got an excellent view of Telescope Peak, the snow-capped mountain which looms more than 12,000 feet over the sub-sea-level floor of Death Valley to make up (with the other mountains in its range) the western wall of the valley.

After spending an hour or so at in Trona, we proceeded on to Death Valley. We drove past a field of dunes, but I haven't uploaded any dunes pictures yet (they're not that good, you're not missing much).

[Badwater] Then we headed south, down into the low part of the valley. The lowest spot in the US, Badwater, is two hundred feet below sea level.

[Death Valley Arch] [Elephant Rock] Near Badwater are a couple of tourist attractions: an arch whose name I have forgotten;
and Elephant Rock, which is actually about four feet high and not very impressive in person.

[A view from Artist's Drive] The most impressive sight in this part of the valley is Artist's Drive, a beautiful, narrow road which winds through colorfully painted hillsides.

[Artist's Palette] The climax of the Artist's Drive loop is the area known as the Artist's Palette: oxidation of different minerals in the rock create a multitude of colors.

At that point, we were running out of light, and since we had not been able to arrange for lodging in the valley, we headed northeast, to Beattie, NV for the night.

Second Day

[Death Valley from the northeast] The next morning, we drove down into the valley from the northeast. The view of the valley spread out below us was lovely.
[Looking back at Corkscrew Peak]

Behind us, Corkscrew Peak loomed.

We had intended to go straight to Dante's View, high above the southeast rim of the valley, because the guidebooks said that it was best in morning light (probably because of the light on the high mountains which make up the valley's western border). But the day was severely overcast, and we decided to head into the valley first, to try a hike in Golden Canyon and to check out the Devil's Golf Course.

Devil's Golf Course

[Devil's Golf Course panorama] [Close-up at Devil's Golf Course] The Devil's Golf Course is a huge salt flat down on the floor of Death Valley. The wind blows the wet salt into strange sculptures.

Close up, the salt sculptures look like miniature snowy mountains.

Golden Canyon

The trail down Golden Canyon follows an old streambed. It used to be a paved road, and you can see remnants of the ruined asphalt, which was washed away in a flash flood earlier this century.

[David descending from the slot canyon] While I was framing photos, Dave wandered off into an eroded rut in the canyon's wall. I eventually followed him, and we ended up rock-scrambling several hundred feet up, before we finally lost our nerve in the rapidly increasing wind (see the account of our Moab Trip to see why we're a little nervous about high winds on desert outings) and steep terrain, and decided to head back down. The view coming down was even better than it had been climbing up, since we could see the high peaks of the western valley through the gap in the canyon walls.

The Golden Canyon hike is a constant source of amazement. Every time the streambed turned a corner, we were greeted by a vista even more amazing than the one before, and usually completely different from the previous one. After a while it got to be almost comical -- we'd round a corner, our jaws would drop and then we'd laugh and say "Oh, well, just another stunningly beautiful view."

[Manly Beacon] [The Red Cathedral]
This includes views such as Manly Beacon, above (named after an early settler),

or the Red Cathedral, left, which marks the end of one fork of the trail.

When we reached the base of the Red Cathedral, the trail ended, causing confusion: the trail guidebook said that the trail went all the way to the parking lot at Zabriskie Point. We studied the guidebook for a while, and eventually discovered that the trail had split just before the "old parking lot". Parking lot? We'd been hiking down a dry streambed, remember. We puzzled over it, and finally decided to retrace our steps back and try to see where we went wrong.

[The Old Parking Lot] When we finally got to the "old parking lot", this time we recognized it, and had to laugh.

We found the other trail, and went a little way along it, but it didn't look like a very pleasant walk, so we opted to return to the truck and drive to Zabriskie Point and then to Dante's View.

As we neared the trailhead, we saw a man and woman standing on the trail, obviously trying to decide whether it was worthwhile to proceed further. The man took a look down the canyon, then waved his hands in a dismissive motion, and they turned around and shambled back to the parking lot. We laughed for the rest of the trip (and weeks afterward) about what they'd missed, probably having no idea and thinking that they'd seen Golden Canyon.

Zabriskie Point

[Badlands near Zabriskie Point] Zabriskie Point is a stunning panorama overlooking mulicolored badlands. The colors here are really in the hills, though we kept looking overhead to find the cloud which was passing by to cause the sharp shadows.
[Manly Beacon from Zabriskie Pt.]

While I was admiring and photographing the view, a raven flew by, very close to me, holding something bright orange in its beak. Perhaps a cheeto, stolen from some visitor's lunch? Unfortunately, I wasn't sufficiently quick-witted to catch him on film, but I got him on the next pass (minus Cheeto): [Raven over Zabriskie Point]

Dante's View

[Death Valley from Dante's View] Dante's View is perhaps the most stunning vista in the park. From the top, you can see almost the whole valley spread out far below you, as well as the mountains on the other side of the valley.

Unfortunately, the clouds had come in, a wind had kicked up and we were not prepared for the cold there. Dave was shivering and was in a hurry to get back inside the warm truck, so I snapped a few pictures and we departed.

But not before snapping a couple of obligatory raven pictures: [Raven at Dante's View]
[Raven at Dante's View]

The Drive Home

[Joshua Trees] I grew up in southern California and spent a lot of time driving in the desert. I've always loved Joshua trees, and there are some beautiful forests of them in the southern Owens Valley on the route we took from Ridgecrest. Even better, they were blooming.

Then we hit the central valley. There is really no good way to get through the central valley, I'm convinced. I've tried just about every alternative, and really, the only solution is to endure.

[Flooded Central Valley Road] This time, we took some minor highways instead of the freeways, which created some interesting experiences -- it turned out that the road had flooded in the rains which had happened on the weekend we spent in the valley (the very rains, in fact, which we had gone to Death Valley to avoid. Success!)
[Driving through Flooded Road] But it did make for some interesting driving ...

[Crop Duster buzzing road] Later, heading along another highway back toward I-5, a crop duster buzzed the highway.

Then we hit I-5 and it was a straight and boring buzz up to the bay area and home.

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