Death Valley, California
Still in search of some warm weather, we headed South to Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the world. Our stop at Bishop was rewarded with some wonderful pastries at Schat’s bakery. Further on in Independence, stocking up for our journey, we stopped at a market and were engaged in the parking lot by a talkative Korean / Vietnam War Vet. He was intrigued by our British trailer-hitch icon and couldn’t help but ask us questions. For more than 45 minutes, standing in the hot parking lot, he was full of stories about his life and war bride. Now 20 minutes later, inside the market, he showed up with a handful of brochures about the area to help us on our way.
Death Valley was awarded its name from the optimistic prospectors who sought to find a short route to the California mines in the Gold Rush of 1849 and perished there. Gold and silver were later found inside the Vally but proved to be uneconomic. However, Borax mining was successful and operated in Furnace Creek and Amargosa from 1883 to 1889. The Borax was shipped out of the park using mule trains. Inside the park, it was the rock formations that impressed us. We stopped to see Rainbow Canyon from Father Crowley’s vista point and then, after a brief encounter with a coyote, climbed over Towne Pass for a vista over Death Vally. We had no reservations but found a site at Furnace Creek campground and settled for the night. Furnace Creek has the highest recorded temperature in the world at 134 F in 1913. Fortunately there was some cloud cover when we arrived to mediate the heat. Death Valley has a reputation as a ‘Dark Sky’ location for night photography so Colin rose at 3 a.m. to take some star photographs. There was a bit more haze than normal so the result was not as dramatic as his Milky Way photo in South Dakota, but the results were interesting, showing 15 minutes of earth rotation, light pollution from a large motor home nearby, and a starry pre-moonrise shot. Next morning Colin was surprised to see a coot wandering the campground (harassed by blackbirds that tried to chase it off). The Ranger later explained that there was still a small amount of water in the lake areas so a few water-fowl make it their home.
The weather was unusually cloudy, there was even a chance of rain later in the day, fortunately not enough to cause flash flooding that is typical with rainstorms here. We spoke to a Park Ranger then drove and hiked some of the areas within reach of Furnace Creek. We particularly enjoyed Artist’s loop (and palette), Zabriskie Point and, after a hair-raising ride, the vista back over the valley from Dante’s View.
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Descent from Dante’s View
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Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park CA