Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Death Valley Days

Ronnie and I have had Death Valley National Park on our list to visit for a long time.  During our working years, our camping travels only took place during summers therefore we wouldn't visit such extreme hot places.  You can come to Death Valley in the summer but you have to be prepared for daytime high temperatures of 100 degrees or more.  As we moved southward from our time on the Oregon coast, staying in Bend for a few days, Ronnie checked the weather for Death Valley and it appeared that we just might have a good cool weather window to visit this surreal landscape.  The drive from Bend, Oregon to Pahrump, Nevada took us on Highway 395 to Highway 95 towards Tonapah, Nevada.  We continued further southward on Highway 95 (through Hawthorne, the largest ammunition storage facility in the world) to Highway 160 and arrived to the nice Wine Ridge RV Park in Pahrump.  This was our base camp to visit Death Valley National Park and even get in a day trip to Las Vegas.  A cold front while here even brought snow to the Spring Mountains seen behind our campground.

 The snow lasted on the mountains a couple of days in spite of Pahrump's warm temperatures and dry humidity.

 We discovered so much to see and explore in Death Valley National Park!  After our first day trip we would need an extra day to view more of this amazing place.  We extended our time in Pahrump and made another trip back to the National Park.  And we still missed several car hikes, 4x4 wheel roads plus several other interesting natural landmarks. Here's a condensed version of our time in Death Valley, a place of intriguing history and landscapes of intense textures, patterns and colors.

Welcome sign on Highway 190, a the short cut to the Park from Pahrump.  A carload of tourists from Georgia emptied as we did, one offered to take our photo.

 To Learn more about Death Valley National Park, click HERE and HERE.  

The blog title "Death Valley Days" refers to the 1952-1970 American western TV program of the same name.  To learn more about that TV series, which some scenes were filmed in Death Valley (as well as many other movies and TV shows) click HERE.

Driving into the Park, our first scenic viewpoint was Zabriskie Point.  This section reminded us a lot of the South Dakota Badlands where land erosion created colorful golden-brown mudstone hills.  Sunsets and sunrises are popular photography times here and fortunately we had an opportunity to make a second stop for a late afternoon snapshot.  We could see how the sunlight did change the sand colors.

A mid day photograph.

Deeper shadows and colors can be seen about 2 hours before sunset.

This particular vista was popular with several other tourists, the most we saw this day.

Late afternoon view at Zabriskie Point.

 A tourist offered to take our photo, I took them up on it..again.
To get the best overall views of the eroded landscape you have to walk up a steep hill to the vantage point.  That's the parking lot back down the hillside.

 We found Death Valley National Park's main Visitor Center in Furnace Creek.  Due to the pandemic the Visitor Center had only been open for couple of weeks and unfortunately for us their exhibits were not yet open. We did find a small selection of souvenirs, a large topography map, a small bookstore and a couple of Park Service Rangers to offer guidance and advice for touring the Park.

 The road through Death Valley seems to stretch out for miles and miles.  We made the decision to visit the charcoal kilns on the Emigrant Canyon Road.  This trip will take us through the heart of Death Valley National Park.

 This section of sand and rocks, found on the main Park highway offered us a view of dry, scrubby plants and a landscape that looked extremely harsh.  Someone named this section of Death Valley the "Devil's Cornfield" because of the evergreen arrowweed plants.

 A little further westward on the main Park highway are the famous Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  It was warm this day (89 degrees) therefore we chose not walk out onto the sand.  We did see several others traipse through them.

 This was one of the more crowded stops.  To get the iconic photo of the dunes, you need to be here at sunset or sunrise and climb to the top of the 100 ft dunes.

The road leading the way to the charcoal kilns was desolate and sparse.  The Emigrant Canyon Road began as a paved highway (it is off the main Park road) and traveled through Emigrant Pass at 5300 feet.  The road then became a dirt path, climbing higher to the location of some old charcoal kilns.

 As we climbed to a higher elevation in the Jeep, we rounded the curve to come up upon two wild burros standing on the side of the road.  We slowed way down to a complete stop, one slowly walked off but this burro stayed for his photograph.

Following the Emigrant Canyon Road for about 21 miles, we finally reached the charcoal kilns.  These structures were built in 1877 to burn/smoke juniper wood to make charcoal.  This charcoal was used to smelt the nearby mined silver ore.  These kilns were only used a few years and amazingly remain as they did when left.  To learn more about the history of mining in Death Valley and the charcoal kilns click HERE.

When you walk inside one, you can still see the smut and smell the odor of burnt wood.

Even though we were in a dry, arid desert, there was life all around us.  We saw birds, butterflies, a lizard or two and even a road runner.

This might be a Townsend's solitaire.

Orange sulphor butterfly

Painted lady butterfly

One more view of the charcoal kilns with the bluest of skies as a backdrop.

Leaving the charcoal kilns, the Emigrant Canyon Road back to the main highway and National Park Visitor Center displayed to us a whole new landscape.

Traveling back down through the Wildrose Canyon provided one spectacular view after another.

We took a quick walk out into the desert brush (carefully) where we saw mostly sagebrush, cacti and rocks.

And a view of Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes off in the distance.

One thing we learned as we traveled through this small portion of Death Valley National Park was distance needed to travel to visit certain highlighted landscapes was deceiving.  What appeared on the map to be a seemingly quick travel distance of several miles was in actuality almost double the miles it was really.  Death Valley National Park is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states consisting of 3 million acres.  The Park is roughly the size of Connecticut.  No wonder we couldn't see the highlights in one day! It got late on us this day but we still had time to make one more side drive.  This one way dirt road located off the main highway, the "Twenty Mule Team Canyon" was another highlight of this day.  Low sunlight in the sky made for more dramatic landscapes.  To learn more about the famous "Twenty Mule Teams" click HERE.

Ronnie made his way up a side trail to see what was on the other side.

I stayed on the ground to make photographs.

As we continued on the dirt road, it went up and down dramatic hills and tight curves.

Every view's a memory!

Looking back behind the Jeep, the hills have muted colors within the shadows of sunset.

Our second day back to Death Valley National Park took us to its most famous landmark: Badwater Basin.  This unusual landscape is 282 feet below sea level making it the lowest point in North America.  It is also the hottest area in the Park.  Our temperatures this day are cool however measuring about 72 degrees because of the cold front that had just past through. To learn more about Badwater Basin, how the salt flat received its name and the geology of the region, click HERE.

The 'bad water' or salty water pooled near the boardwalk.

The white arrow to the right designates the "Sea Level" sign seen on the canyon rock wall.

The polygon salt formations of the salt flats.  Look closely, you can see two tourists on the horizon.

Ronnie scanning the rock cliff wall for the Sea Level signage.

Close view of the salt crystals.  Kneeling to take a floor view photograph of the salt flats was done quickly, those salt crystals are sharp.

Once again, we were offered a photograph of us in this historic landscape. Sure.


We were intrigued with Death Valley's "Devil's Golf Course".  Here the salt flats have eroded and reshaped into sharp mounds of salty rock.  Rising salt water formed crystals then windblown into these large rocky boulders, this landscape was as harsh as it could get.  Signage warned of walking out into this landscape too far as severe cuts and possible broken bones could result!

Back on the main road, we came upon another side paved road, the "Artists Palette Drive". Once more, scenic views surrounded us on that high desert drive.

Salt flats can be seen in the 'Death Valley' below.

The Artist Palette area is one of the most photographed scenic spots in Death Valley National Park.  The volcanic deposited iron oxides and chlorite created a variegated display of color and texture.  We visited during the mid-day therefore our color view was a little 'sun washed out' but still impressive.

Ronnie standing on the hillside in the foreground, notice the tiny hikers, center, perched on a distant hillside trail.

The blue sky again contrasts with the orange-brown hills.

One more stop to check out the most popular hike in Death Valley: The Golden Canyon.  It's too late in the day for us to make this journey but we did make a short walk into the canyon to get a feel for the environment.

 Roadway view leaving the Devil's Golf Course.

Roadway view on the Artist Palette Road.

 We saved the best view for last: a sunset drive up to Dantes View.  Also billed a 'must-see' in Death Valley National Park, this mountain top lookout point rests near the top of Coffin Peak at 5475 feet.  The view below of Death Valley, the Badwater Basin Salt Flats and the elongated mountain ranges, projects a view unlike any other.  This was a good place to see how Death Valley was geologically created, the two north-south fault lines and the sunken expanse of rock lying between these parallel uplifted mountain ranges/faults.  To learn more about the geology of Dantes View click HERE.

 The white lines in the valley are the Badwater Basin Salt Flats.

 We did not take time to see Death Valley National Park's ghost mining towns, historic sites and mining museums, other 4x4 dirt roads and paths, hiking trails, other iconic scenic geologic land forms or the desert oasis inns and restaurants. We'll leave something more to explore if we come back one day.
 Our day trip into Las Vegas was uneventful, yet we were very surprised at its growth since we were there 20 years ago!

More later as we 'Eas-on Down the Road' back east to North Carolina.



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