Friday, 6 January 2012

Boundless Splendour in Death Valley

One associates parched, sun baked and desolate landscapes with the legendary Death Valley. Those of you who have been here will note that the misnomer was given to the area by a group of miners in 1849 who had lost a colleague there. Upon leaving the area, they remarked "goodbye death valley" and the name stuck. The climate is indeed harsh with temperatures as high as 120 Fahrenheit in the valley that sits at 282 feet below sea level! At night, temperatures plummet to below freezing in the mountain areas. The annual rainfall is less than two inches! The territory has an amazing history, ecosystem and geology.

  Driving in to Death Valley, we were treated to exquisite views that changed as we turned each corner.
They included crumbling rocky passes; moonscape-like hills; dusty flats with black lava-like rocks jutting across their surface; miles of blazing white salt flats where former lakes have dried up; gravel studded plains  with Joshua cactus or mesquite bushes sprawling across them and golden coloured mountains streaked with red and ochre stratum. Our campsite was a huge gravel "parking lot" surrounded by valley plains then mountains. A number of campers had their tents snuggled down between the mesquite bushes and every type of camper van and RV were scattered across the parking lot. We hiked the Mosaic Canyon where amazing polished marble met coral-like brecchia. All the campers at Stovepipe Wells enjoyed the 360 degree sunset, a splendid magenta and cobalt display of vibrant coloured clouds rolling over the mountain silhouettes.

Over the next two days we explored many miles of DV. The early dawn sun cast haunting shadows across the rolling hills of the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Lots of tiny bird and kangaroo mice tracks told tales of the previous night. Drove miles past changing geological formations: some softly carved, smooth sandstone hills; some flat rocky fields strewn with stones of all shapes and colours; some granite and limestone mountains pressed and folded by the Precambrian and Ice Ages. Walked about Scotty's Castle, another dichotomy
of DV, a Spanish-style mansion built as a holiday escape but legended to be funded with gold from a nonexistent mine. Climbed to the top of the 600' hole in the ground, the 300 year old Ubehebe Crater, formed 300 years ago by a volcanic explosion. Later, a boardwalk took us around a salty stream where the setting sun lit up the surrounding pink and oatmeal coloured badlands. Amazingly this Salt Creek was host to pickle weed grasses and pup fish which both have adapted for survival in the saline environment. We were serenaded in the night by spine-chilling coyote howls.