Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Return Trip to Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower 48 states. We really felt that we did not do it justice by spending only one day there, so we returned Thursday and planned on making it a two day journey. Last week we had been down in the valley of the park and walking on the salt flats. Our first stop on this trip was at Dante's View, where we got a very good sense of the immensity of the basin with its mountain walls. Here we are at 5,475 feet, looking down at where we were last week at 280 feet below sea level.
I may have said it before, at Death Valley the landscape is forever changing and at Zabriskie Point we saw that once again.The area here is beautiful but rugged and barren, hence it received the name of the badlands.
Every visit to Death Valley should include a visit to the Artist's Palette. We took the Artist's Drive around  beautifully painted rock structures and found one particular area which stands out as an artist's palette. The pastel hues of blues, violets, pinks and greens actually reminded me of the color of Easter eggs. The reds, pinks, yellow, orange and brown colors come from iron oxide, and limonite, a yellow iron oxide. Other colors, especially the violets and greens, are formed by the alteration of the minerals found in the volcanic ash.
We also saw the downright ugly on our first day in the park. At the Devil's Golf Course there is a wide expanse of large lumps of crystalline salt. The rugged ground here has been formed by salt crystals crystallizing and expanding. A saline thirty-foot lake used to be here. Newer crystals keep forming (they are the pure white crystals), the older crystals are covered with dust blown in from nearby mud flats.
Our last stop of our first day was at Golden Canyon. It is named for the glowing color of the canyon walls. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the sun was setting low in the sky and we good not get a good full appreciation of those colors. It still was a beautiful hike with many towering colorful rock formations all around us. As we walked through it we saw the remnants of an old road which once led into the canyon. It was washed out in a sudden storm in 1976. It is quite impressive what a flash flood can do in this park!

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