– Stovepipe Wells, California to Primm, Nevada –
It’s time to leave Death Valley. Today was our last day in the park. Tonight we’re spending the night in Primm, Nevada, at another casino, with this one in the middle of nowhere. Who knew they even put them this far away from Vegas? I’m heartily sick of them and their smoky miasma, I have to say.
We began the morning at 6am, while it was still dark outside. Mark, Ripley, and I took off to jog up the road to Mosaic Canyon that we walked up yesterday. The incline was much more noticeable today. We were quickly winded, and the rocks were tough, but we ended up doing pretty well in the end. Ripley had fun, at least.
We were out of our hotel room by around 9am, after another quick breakfast of cereal and juice. We are officially out of cereal, so tomorrow’s breakfast is questionable. I know our hotel doesn’t have anything. Who knows that we will find.
It isn’t too far from Stovepipe Wells back to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, and we made good time. We stopped by to fill up our water jugs and finish up at the museum, since we hadn’t been able to see too much of it during our visit on Sunday. We’d been told Artist’s Drive was about to close for road work, so we wanted to make sure we finished it before the sun set that day. When we drove past it today, however, it was still open. Now the park website says it doesn’t close until next Monday. Alas.
From Furnace Creek, we drove over to Zabriskie Point, which we actually passed on the way into the park on Sunday without stopping. The lighting was terrible for photographs in the afternoon, since the sun was behind the vista. Zabriskie Point wasn’t on our road out of the park, but we definitely wanted to catch it before we left, and it wasn’t far out of the way.
It’s a good thing we stopped. The view was delightful. In this area, around 5 million years ago, Furnace Creek Lake dried up and left behind an eroded landscape in its former bed. At Zabriskie Point, you walk up a small hill to look over the empty lakebed, which is covered with lava-capped badlands. It’s neat to see, and when you first catch a glimpse, it can take your breath away. It’s hard to imagine how gorgeous Death Valley can be, considering its reputation.
After we finished at Zabriskie Point, we had to backtrack a bit to get back to the road we were taking out of the park. Our first stop on Badwater Road was at the Devil’s Golf Course. This area is the remains of another lake, Lake Manly, which used to cover the entire Badwater Basin. As the climate in the area changed, the water in the lake dried up, leaving behind a thick, damp layer of minerals at the bottom of the lakebed. When this soupy mineral water finally dried, it dried up in these shapes, which are called halite salt crystal formations. The area is still active where there’s water, and according to signs in the park, you can hear crackling sounds as delicate new salt crystals are formed.
As we first drove down the dirt road back to the Devil’s Golf Course, we were unimpressed. We didn’t find anything about the formations particularly interesting. It looked like when any pool of water dries up and the soil cracks. As we got further back, however, the formations became more and more ornate, and from what I understand, if you hike on foot further back into the formations, they become more intricate still. We didn’t venture to far into the field, but we still ended up being impressed. It’s actually pretty cool. Mark tasted some, of course.
Not far from the Devil’s Golf Course is a little road that leads back to Natural Bridge, which is an arch much like the ones you’d see in Utah and the like. We didn’t actually get back to the arch, since it’s a bit of a hike back into the canyon to see it, but we did poke around the trailhead and take some photographs.
The lowest point in North America is found in Death Valley. It’s 282 feet below sea level, and it is known as the Badwater Basin, or just Badwater. It’s a salt flat in the middle of an ancient dried-up lake. It may be pretty low, but it is only the 8th lowest point on land on the planet. The lowest is the Dead Sea in Jordan, which is a staggering 1,360 feet below sea level. If you look beyond land, the lowest point on the planet is the Challenger Deep at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, 36,201 feet below the level of the ocean above it.
Badwater is the most interesting part of Death Valley, even if it isn’t the most beautiful. It’s nestled between two mountain ranges: the Panamints and the Amargosas. All of the hottest parts, the true “valley” in Death Valley, fall in this region. Part of the park extends over these mountains, but the focal point is at the center.
Mark and I had never seen Badwater before. The truth is, as a thing by itself, it really isn’t that interesting. It’s an oddly snowy-looking desert plain. It’s flat and featureless, in the easily accessible areas. I have read that hexagonal salt crystals cover the surface further in, but we didn’t get to see anything like that. We mostly saw features similar to the Devil’s Golf Course, and a totally flat plain of salt.
A ranger was leading a tour out onto the salt flats, and she encouraged everyone to take water, since it was incredibly dry out there, in spite of the cooler winter temperatures. Mark and I ended up grabbing a bottle of water in passing since we’d overheard her mentioning it, and I was really glad we did. We didn’t walk out as far as some of the other people, and we still drank most of our bottle of water before we made it back. It’s incredibly dry out there. According to Wikipedia, the basin dries up the equivalent of a 12ft deep lake every year. It’s almost scary.
Past Badwater, there’s not much left to Death Valley, Just before we left, we came across Ashford Mill, which used to mill gold from a nearby gold mine. The mill is in ruins, of course, but much like the other mill we visited yesterday, the abandoned buildings and equipment were neat to see. I don’t know that you need to drive all the way down there just to see it, but if you happen across it, it’s worth a look.
Another car pulled up while we were looking at the ruins to tell us that there was a coyote nearby on the road. We’d seen several cars over there, and I wondered aloud what they were looking at. Now we knew. No one had the heart to tell them that we usually kill coyotes. They’re vermin.
After we pulled out of the parking lot and back on to the main road, sure enough, there was a coyote, just standing beside the road. It didn’t look sick, or confused, or frightened. It looked like Ripley begging for kibbles. Someone’s been feeding it. It didn’t even know to be afraid of people. We were within ten feet of it in our Suburban, and it just stood there, waiting for a handout. Loud talking, gesturing, and even Ripley’s barking didn’t upset it in the least.
We were honestly a little disturbed by the unaccustomed behavior. There are signs about not feeding the wildlife for a reason. That coyote is now a danger to people, and will probably eventually need to be put down by the park service. Actions have consequences.
At the park exit, we stopped for a family photo and then drove on out to Shoshone, where we stopped for lunch. The Crowbar, where we stopped, was expensive, but delicious. We were really surprised that the only cafe in a tiny town had such good food, and more than one vegetarian options. Dad had a pastrami sandwich, Mom had a club, I had a grilled veggie burrito, and Mark had cheese enchiladas. Their salsa was good, too. It was right next a little museum and the post off and gas station. It’s a cute place.
It took us a few more hours to get down to Primm, where we were staying for the night. Google Maps gave us a bit of grief with passing off dirt roads as real ones, but we made it just the same. Our hotel is a small casino and resort, which meant they got to charge a resort fee. The price went up quite a bit with that little addition that we didn’t even know existed. Yay, Nevada.
We had Ihop for dinner and Mom and Dad went down to the casino to play video poker again after we ate. Mark and I went up to the room to puppy-sit. When they came back, they told us they’d once again broken even, despite buying sodas while they were down there. To be fair, Mom only took $23 with her, so breaking even wasn’t a huge accomplishment.
Tomorrow we are heading back into California to see the Mojave Desert and then Joshua Tree. We will stay for the night in Indio. Tonight should be the last night we have to worry about our hotel being a little sketchy, and tomorrow morning should be the last morning we have to worry about scrounging for breakfast. There’s nowhere to run here, but I guess we’ll figure something out.
– Trip Total : 2,107 miles –