Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Lowest Point in My Life

January 1, 2009 was the lowest point in my life. That is, I was 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley in California, 120 miles from home. A land of extremes, you can find the driest, hottest* and lowest spot in North America (or the western hemisphere for that matter). Because 120 degree temperatures in the summer is not uncommon, my husband and I decided to visit the national park during this cooler weather.

Our first stop was Dante's View where we witnessed the most breath-taking scenery of the park from the elevation of 5,475 feet. It was quite cool, just over 50 degrees which is paltry compared to the 134 degree record established in 1913; the highest temperature in North America. Way down below, the massive salt pan which covers more than 200 square miles can be seen from up here. It is 40 miles long and more than 5 miles wide. Such contrast against the background of snow covered peaks, majestic guardians against the rain. When vertigo started to settle in so we made our descent to lower grounds.
(Click on panorama below for full-size photo from Dante's View)

Next stop was Zabriskie Point. The geological formation is a 'maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands' so surreal I felt like I was in another world. John remembers running across them when he camped here as a child with his grandparents.

You can walk along the apex of the ridges like this gentleman did.

The vehicles in the parking lot and people appeared to be miniatures from where we stood.

This panorama might give you a better idea of the view. (Click below for a full-size photo the view from Zabriskie Point.)

We were quite hungry after these adventures so we stopped at Furnace Creek Inn for lunch. Built in 1927, this quaint hotel displays some original, well preserved antiques like the hardware in the bathrooms and chandelier lamps over the dining area.
If you park at the lower level, the entry way to the elevator is quite an experience to walk through. You would not want to face your worst enemy in this narrow hallway, LOL.
We were seated in the restaurant area. I ordered a Prickly Pear Margarita and Filet Mignon hamburger for lunch. Going on a diet is not one of my resolutions this year.

John ordered the California Grill sandwich, thinly sliced roast beef with grilled green chiles.
Then a quick stop by the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center (at 190 feet below sea level) to get my passport stamp.

At this point, we could head up north to Scotty's Castle but decided to head south to Artists Drive where we can admire the colorful Artists Palette. Can you spot the people walking between the hills?

(Click below for a full-size photo)

The one-way road along Artists Drive meanders through valleys and between narrow walls. It felt like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland.

11 miles later, we were 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin (passing up Devils Golf Course because of the unpaved road. The area is filled with jagged rocks weathered into shape by wind and rain.). I have a video of Badwater Basin though I wished I had taken one after we walked out far enough. I was surprised to see water, it's bad water, but Death Valley gets so little rain I thought I wouldn't see a drop, especially in the salt flats. The National Park Service reported that in 1929, no rain was recorded in Death Valley, California. From 1931 through 1934, a 40 month period, only 0.64 inches of rain fell.

Miles and miles of nothing but salt flats spread before us. The soil is so salty, nothing can survive on it but yet 'Death Valley is home to more than 1000 species of plants and more than 50 of those are endemics, found nowhere else in the world'. As we walked across the area, the salt crunched beneath our feet. The sunshine reflecting off the near-white salt was bright. It felt like being at a ski resort but it wasn't cold. By that afternoon, the temperature was over 60 degrees.

Many people walked out as far as they could, disappearing into horizon. I walked out for a few yards but was uncomfortable with how the salt gave in softly in some places, thinking any minute I could fall through and a salt monster would eat me.

There was a sign prohibiting smoking, dogs and bicycles on the flats but it didn't say anything about ducks (this was someone's pet)! Just before we walked away after taking this photo, the duck pooed (kid you not!).

There was SO MUCH more we wanted to see like Scotty's Castle (a Spanish-style vacation home built in the 1920s; there's a great story behind it), Ubehebe Crater (600 feet deep), and The Racetrack (where rocks mysteriously slide across dry lake bed leaving behind long tracks as testimony from one stood) but the daylight was dwindling and we wanted to get home before dark. Besides, I think it would take more than one day to cover the 5,262 square mile park! If you are planning a visit, the visitor's guide is a great resource.

I guess we will have go back soon but at least we were leaving at a high point of our trip (or low point given that we were at the lowest elevation in North America). With a disappointing start to my vacation, visiting Death Valley made up for everything and could not have been a better start for the coming year!

Photos from the Death Valley album on Flickr.

Now playing: Kaskade & Deadmau5 - Move for Me (Extended Mix)
via FoxyTunes


Anonymous said...

NOT cool Daly! I got all scared when I read your headline, like whoa! What the hell happened??? Only to find that you went to Death Valley! LOL. Nice.


Daly said...

Sorry if I scared you, LOL. I wanted to see who was reading ;)

Elena said...

Sounds like a great excursion! Someday, I want to go there. I really have no excuse, since we live so close...
Loved the shot of the "duck-crossing"!

Laurie said...


You know I just had my tonsils out and you go and post all that fabulous looking food. Shame on you! Just kidding! Looks like you had a great time... those are some amazing photos. And you were right... the liquid pain killer was the bomb!

Daly said...

@ Elena, you HAVE to go there. This year. We will go with you anytime. I really enjoyed it and wished we had more time.

@ Laurie, the photos were an incentive for you to get well. I went through two bottles of pain killer and the doctor wouldn't refill anymore, LOL. Well, the pain didn't stop me after a week. I was SO ready for spicy stuff and...for some reason, grilled cheese sandwiches (you know, the hard crusty bread that will scratch your mouth and throat raw). Get 220% well, Laurie!! (After that, the tonsillectomy, I rarely, rarely got sick so that is a big plus to look forward to.)