Saturday, February 25, 2012

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park straddles the Nevada border in the eastern central part of California. It is a good two hour trip from Las Vegas over to Death Valley. The park, which is the driest, hottest and lowest of all the national parks, encompasses 3,336,000 acres- of which we saw only a small portion yesterday. I certainly now have a different impression of the area. Until yesterday the words "Death Valley" brought to my mind visions of dry, sandy flat land. As you may see from the picture below, that is not true.
 In reality, mountains and large colorful rocks pretty much dominate the scene. On the west side is the Panamint Range and on the eastern side of the park lies the Amargosa Range. It is the mountains, in addition to the low elevation, which keep the park hot. The enclosing mountains recirculate the hot air and prevent it from dissipating at night. Summer daytime highs often reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit and lows may drop to 100 degrees at night. The primary reason for our visit to the park was to see the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere. Up to this point we had seen very few cars or other tourists but found them here.
 The lowest elevation is at Badwater Basin. It is a vast salt flat which presently has a small lake dotted with sodium chloride crystals and a variety of other salts as gypsum and borax. The first '49ers crossing the desert took their mules to this lake for a drink of water and the mules refused to even take a sip. Hence the term "bad water". The flats always stay wet because of underground seepage.
 Erosion and other geologic forces (as earthquakes) have been in action over thousands of years to create this basin as well as the many other rock formations we saw yesterday. Our next stop after Badwater Basin was at Natural Bridge Canyon. The gravel road we took to get to the bridge, as well as the hike over to it, was all an uphill climb. The trail took us through a narrow canyon. The natural rock bridge is pictured below. It was a hot walk with the sun high overhead. I will have more on our trip to Death Valley in the next posting.

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