Death Valley colors, textures, and wonders

Another Friday, another drive to leave Los Angeles for bigger spaces and new places.

Daylight saving was over, and we left late with only four hours driving ahead of us, taking the 395 and turning before Lone Pine on to Highway 190, into Death Valley.

We snuck into Emigrant Campground around 11pm, right after passing Wild Rose Road. The night was gorgeous and mild, almost warm.

Emigrant Campground

Emigrant Campground

Saturday was a casual start, with a drive down, down, down into Furnace Creek, quite possibly the “coolest un-coolest” name ever!

We stopped at a historic Borax Mine on the way toward town. It reminded me of Australia’s outback with a harsh and short history, before the environment and economy got the better of operations. The most impressive part, and popular with many visitors I believe, was imagining the highly impressive 20 Mule Teams pulling huge wagons to transport borax from Death Valley to Daggett (about 171 miles or 275km away).

Borax Mine Wagon

A 20 Mule Team wagon in amazing condition at the historic Harmony Borax Mine

In Furnace Creek, after purchasing a new National Parks Annual Pass in the Visitor Centre, we ogled the tough palm trees in a sea of stunted bushes, rocks, and sand. Driving to our next stop, Zabriskie Point, a glint of silvery liquid caught our eye on the roadside. We parked and explored to find salty runnels where groundwater had bubbled and was running downhill.

Death Valley Furnace Creek Inn

Furnace Creek Resort just outside of the town of Furnace Creek

At Zabriskie Point, we were welcomed by a geological wonder that had my mouth watering with thoughts of chocolate sauce, butterscotch pudding, vanilla icecream and toffee and caramel – the colors were just as sweet!

Zabriskie Point colors

View from Zabriskie Point

Saline water flowing in Death Valley

Investigating saline springwater adjacent to the road

Desert Holly Death Valley

Desert Holly along the roadside

Our Death Valley adventures continued with an obligatory visit to Badwater Basin, an area below sea level with crusted crystals and odd surfaces. Most impressive for me was the 3368m elevation gain from Badwater Basin all the way up to Telescope Peak (which we were hiking later that day for an overnight trip). Some hike from the basin to the summit, though we’d be taking the usual route that had a lot less uphill on foot!

Badwater Basin Dikko

Dikko below sealevel (not quite the Dead Sea but still cool!)

Leaving Badwater Basin we drove back toward Furnace Creek and did a loop called Artist’s Drive, a most spectacular scenic drive that showcased many of the vibrant, rich colors and textures of Death Valley, and then some! I’ve never seen such colors and swirls contrasted with the most beautiful deep skies. The little loop road was well worth its namesake for artists and observers alike.

Artist's Drive Death Valley

Views on Artist’s Drive of a mixture of volcanic and sedimentary hills

Artist's Drive Death Valley

More stunning features and colors of Death Valley on Artist’s Drive

Artist's Drive Death Valley

Is that icecream? Peppermint? Caramel? Chocolate? Vanilla? Artist’s Drive inspires the imagination

From Artist’s Drive we passed back through Furnace Creek and up the long hill out of Death Valley for our hike Telescope Peak overnight.

While our visit to Death Valley was only half a day I learned it is anything but bleak or an end. Instead it’s vibrant and interesting and colorful beyond imagination – as long as one visits outside the valley’s scorching temperatures, in the comfort of a reliable vehicle!

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