20 April 2006 Thursday

We started this morning before daybreak and drove to Zabrinski Point for the sunrise.  The day started kind of cool, but warmed up quickly.  We did a longer hike, about 5.5 miles, at Golden Canyon-Gower Gulch loop.  The loop took us on the backside of and through the badlands we had seen this morning.  The colors of these badlands are beautiful!  Reds, oranges, greens, purples, all set off with golden, white and jet black lava.  The hike lead us down a wash and to a 20 ft dry waterfall.  The trail skirted around it, but did give a nervous bit of exposure.  

Our next stop showcases the colors of the badlands, the Artist’s Palette.  This drive takes us through some of the most colorful mountains I’ve ever seen.  A kiosk there describes some of the minerals that causes these outrageous colors to form.  

Next stop, the Devil’s Golf Course.  This is part of the salt basin where the salt and minerals is so concentrated that the crystals create bizarre, jagged formations.  It is said that only the Devil himself could play a round of golf on this course.

We were getting tired and it was getting hot, but we had a couple more stops to make.  We hiked about a half mile up to Natural Bridge.  This is in a wash and the rocks didn’t look real sturdy.  It would erode quickly if too many rains hit it.  Since Death Valley only gets less than 2 inches of rain a year, this still may be here a while.  

Our final stop in Death Valley was Badwater Basin.  This is the lowest point in the park at 282 ft below sea level and falling.  We got there with 2 buses and several other vehicles.  It’s funny, we only run into crowds at certain places and usually see only a few people on the trails.  We did notice a lot of foreign tourists in the last few days, especially French.  And I thought all of Europe vacationed in August.  (Not that you would want to see Death Valley in August, when the temperature can reach 115-120 degrees).  

We made one more uneventful stop before leaving the park at the Ashford Mills ruins.  This area had a lot of mining at the turn of the 20th century and as a result, has a lot o old mine shafts and mining ruins.  It’s hard to imagine being out here in 1910 or 1920, trying to find riches in gold in the summer heat of 120 degrees.  It’s reported that even at night, it may only drop to 100 degrees.  However, the Native Americans of the area, the Timbisha Shoshone, had lived in harmony with this environment for centuries.  In fact, they were upset that the white settlers named thier homeland “Death Valley”, since they drew life from it.  

We left Death Valley and found some BLM land just outside of the park.  The south side of the park gets almost NO traffic!  We’ve seen very few cars on the road.  It’s warm enough that we both used the solar shower to wash off layers of sand, salt, sweat and sunscreen.  We had a desert kit fox visit us, curious about the smell on the ground where I had poured out some liquid from cans at dinner.

Next stop- Vegas, baby!!

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