Living it up in Death Valley

The drive from Mojave to Death Valley featured the most barren landscape we’d seen yet. The road stretched on for miles with nothing but creosote around us and mountains on the horizon. By the time we reached the park, after hours of ominous monotony, my sleep-deprived mind was a little worried about what the next two days might bring. You’d think I’d have a little more faith in the National Parks by now.

We secured a campsite, hit the visitor center for the movie, the pamphlet, and our chat with a ranger, then we were off exploring. First stop: Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America with the mark for sea level high on the cliffs above us.

Death Valley holds the title for the lowest, the driest, and the hottest place in America. But it wasn’t always so, and the valley was once filled with a lake. As the climate changed and mountains rose to block moisture from the ocean coming in, the lake evaporated, eventually leaving the massive salt flats in Badwater.

Crunching through the crystalline waste was like walking on another planet. As we moved on I was surprised to learn that much of the landscape of Death Valley was shaped by water, and by forces more violent than evaporation. Though it only rains 2-4” a year on average, when it does rain here flash floods, mudslides, and massive erosion occur. At Artist’s Palette we found weird, candy-colored canyons, with exposed minerals turning the walls yellow, pink, and green.

At Zabrskie point we got back above sea level and observed the valley from a higher vantage. Again, it looked like an alien world, and we were not the first people to think so: George Lucas filmed the Tatooine scenes in the original Star Wars here.

I figured if a few hundred feet elevation gain could give us such a great view, why not a few thousand? It was a long drive up into the mountains to reach Dante’s View, but hey, we weren’t hiking it and we had some daylight left. We got a great view of the expanse of Badwater below us. And look at this cutie:

We stayed at the epic viewpoint for a while and took stock. This was as far west as we were going, and after one more day in the park we would start heading back east. It was literally a turning point, and we would no longer be heading out for adventure but taking the scenic route home. Soon we’ll have to figure out where that home will be. We’re really looking forward to the next phase actually, making a home and reclaiming the simple domestic comforts we’ve given up, but we’re also going to savor the time until we make that transition back. We are blessed to be doing what we’re doing, and we will carry these experiences with us always.

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