Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

Death Valley

Long and lonely road

 

Sand dunes

Bullet holes - welcome to Nevada!

Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite ghost town - bottle house

Welcome to Death Valley!

Old train, pulled by mules to move borax

 

The lowest point in North America

 

 

 

Salty

 

Funky rocks

 

Vast scenery of nothing!

 

 

Amazing coloured rocks


November 2, 2011

Smothering our lovely cinnamon bagels in jam for breakfast, we were on the road again nice and early today, eating as we drove. The drive south from Lone Pine to Death Valley was similar to much of yesterday with the exception of a few more funky looking Joshua trees lining the roadside. The difference in landscape was tangible as you crossed from the main road into the Death Valley National Park and although it still seemed like a dry, dusty, uninhabitable area the scenery from the surrounding hills and valley floor were both distinct. Like I’ve said before, it is hard to imagine that this is within the same state that brings you Yosemite and ugly LA. As we first headed up the hillsides surrounding the valley we got some great views of the massive Mesquite Flat Dunes, with sand dunes rising up to 150ft tall. This national park is the largest one outside of Alaska and contains the hottest, lowest and driest points in the country and the diversity is obvious within a few minutes of entering the park. The temperatures dipped below freezing as we crossed the mountains but you could see the heat haze along places in the valley floor.

We crossed right the way through the park to begin with and went out the other side, crossing into Nevada. The sign welcoming you to Nevada was, well, not very welcoming as the bullet holes acted more as a “get the f*ck off my land” rather than a “come in, sit down, have a cup of tea”. Still, when did bullet holes ever stop anyone… The reason for leaving the park and entering Nevada was to visit one of the ghost towns which dotted the area either side of the CA/NV state border and the town we entered was called Rhyolite. The town was indeed deserted other than a shop selling tacky souvenirs, a man who lived in a house made of bottles and a load of tourists, including a bright pink bus full of them from Vegas. And us. Although the buildings that still remained were quite cool, it was difficult to get a perspective of isolation and desertion. Compared to our visit to Prypiat near Chernobyl, this town could’ve been a rundown suburb of a big city and just didn’t seem to have an element of mystery, mystique or unknowing about it. The buildings which remained included the train station, a school, banks, the merchant store and, finally, the bottle house. We both assumed that it was an old store that used to sell alcohol to thirsty locals but it was actually a house made of bottles, the walls created by cementing hundreds and hundreds of bottles together. It was certainly the weirdest and most interesting thing about the town.

Back in the park we headed to the borax works where the deposits that were collected were “refined” and transported. The weight of the borax was often extreme and the area became known for its large 20 mule teams which transported the goods. The teams were actually made up of 18 mules and two horses leading them but “18 mules and 2 horses” isn’t as catchy.

We stopped briefly at the visitor centre and this was actually situated below sea level. The difference in temperature here compared to earlier was really noticeable and we were soon dispensing of our jackets! The main visitor centre was closed for renovation so we spent a few minutes checking out the temporary trailer before continuing on our way. The visitor centre is 190ft below sea level but we were soon heading even lower, to Badwater Basin. This area of the park is the lowest point in North America being 282ft below sea level. The surrounding hillside had a marker on it showing where exactly sea level would be and while it didn’t look that high we put it into perspective by considering how deep we are allowed to go when we dive. Our current qualification means we can go 100ft under the surface so if this area was under water, we’d have to go about three times deeper. There was a small pond at the site which was about 4 times saltier than the ocean and it was surrounded by completely flat, salt-covered land. We walked out a little way into the salt flat and were still surprised how warm it was!

The next stop was the Devil’s Golf Course, presumably named because of the holes in the crystal salt covered rocks. The crystal salt spires that were “grown” here are a result of water which evaporated 2,000 years ago and although many of these have been worn down by human intervention (or “walking all over them”!) the further out you walked the more of the crystal formations you were able to see and the better preserved they were.

Finally, we ventured into an area known as Artist’s Drive and it was easy to see why. The rocks here were a variety of amazing colours, with greens, pinks, purples, yellows, blues, reds and many others in between. The colours were so clear and bright as well. One part of the drive was called the Artist’s Palette because there was supposedly an area where there is a number of different swatches of colour resembling its name. With the surrounding area so full of colour though, it was difficult to see the difference between this area and all the others, such was the vibrancy shown on the rock faces. The diversity in this national park was amazing and it was a shame we didn’t have more time to explore.



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