Travelogue: Death Valley National Park

Having grown up in Southern California, I feel like I’ve always known about Death Valley. It’s just part of the landscape, everyone talks about it, and has a sense of what is there and that it’s really hot, but I can’t say I’ve really known anyone that had ever visited, other than one ranger I worked with during my first season in Yosemite. After having seen it, I can’t believe I haven’t been there sooner, or spent more time. My first glimpse just made me want to stay longer and be there more. Having not gotten out of the city much to feed my soul in several years, I craved the silence and the stillness. It was like my soul was taking one big giant gasp of air to fill itself up to last me until the next time.

I must say my inner geology nerd was in overdrive as well. The diversity of the landscapes and how much different geology you could see in one place, albeit a large one place, was so stimulating. I squeed my way up and down the Mosaic Canyon, snapping pictures meant to be sent back to my college geology advisor for her intro course. The slot canyon was small, but if you’ve never seen a slot canyon it gives you a good taste. I could have walked much further, but my hiking companion was getting a bit hot in the 103 degree weather and his tolerance for rocks, rocks, and more rocks is not nearly as high as my own, so we stopped in a shady spot against the canyon wall about a mile in where the canyon opened up. Silence truly is deafening. Your ears strain to hear something and it’s as if all the stimulation in your brain is trying to get out your ears. But true silence is amazing and something I’ve experienced in less than a handful of places, so it was truly special. What stood out even more was that I could hear two hikers’ footsteps in the sand from at least a quarter to a half mile off it was so silent. I was amazed at how much further the sound seemed to travel. In reality it’s just a matter of actually being able to hear a distinct sound separate from all the other noises in the world. I really was enchanted by Mosaic Canyon.

We also went and spent some time at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (in actuality we found them after we had blown past the road to Mosaic Canyon because the sign was only on the opposite side of the road from us). I spent some time at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and have also driven past White Sands in New Mexico, so these dunes seemed fairly small to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed their preservation of critter tracks. I could have wandered them all day following the imprint of the lives that run around in the dark of this park. I saw lizard, and bird, and kangaroo rat tracks, all trucking along their little sand highways.

Next, I insisted we check out the Salt Creek trail. Zebra-tailed lizards scurried left and right down the boardwalk in front of us and offered up some great photos. This creek is supposedly the home of endangered pupfish, however we never found any water, and despite the interpretive signage, I never did learn how a fish species survived with no water. I guess a visit to Wikipedia is in order.

Zabriskie Point and then the Artist’s Palette presented very colorful and dramatic landscapes. Zabriskie Point has a very steep trail to the lookout, but the tawny vistas and layered sediments are very dramatic. The road to the Artist’s Palette is a fantastic driving tour. A road was carved through the foothills for several miles, but is hidden so well, the untrained eye can’t see it from the main road. It weaves in and out of canyons and brings you right up against the colorful layers with features that really do look like giant globs of paint dripped on top of rock.

One of the many great things about Death Valley was it’s very easy to visit by car. Visitors can see so much just from their car and the short trails and walks are designed to get you out of the car but not for so long you die of heat stroke. It’s a great park for those limited in the distance they can walk or travelling with children, and it also had several accessible trails that were worthy of visits in their own right. I thought the park was very well planned out in its roads, and I’ve never seen so many flush toilets. It felt positively luxurious. Due to a mechanical issue we had to leave the 4wd truck at home at the last minute and were stuck with my low clearance car, but I can’t wait until our next trip where we get out and explore some of the remoter parts of the park like the Racetrack.