Finding exceptional beauty in a barren and inhospitable landscape
Some may call us foolish for visiting Death Valley National Park in the summer months, but we really wanted to experience the extreme conditions that are on offer there. We had journeyed from the relatively cool conditions of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the visit the lowest point in North America! The mountains provide a rain shadow for the deserts to their east. It takes a relatively short drive from the mountains to the desert ranges, which are made up mountains, canyons and large flat plains. After making a few stops on the way to take some photographs we reach our place of rest for the next two days, the Oasis at Death Valley, formerly known as the Furnace Creek Inn. This is literally an oasis in this barren and spartan landscape, complete with palm trees, fountains and swimming pools. We quickly settle into our lodge and head to the pool to cool off.
The next day we wanted to explore the landscape of this fascinating natural wonders of this Death Valley. This place is vast, with over 3 million acres of designated wilderness. We decided we wanted to try a few hikes but in the summer more than any time of year your need to take precautions. A hat and sun cream are essential items, and as there is no escaping the heat and we made sure to carry water plenty of water.
Our first stop was a short hike just to get us acclimatized to the heat. The Harmony Borax Works is only a short ride from the Oasis and played a key role in the history of Death Valley. Borax is a component of many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. It was discovered in the valley near Furness Creek Ranch in 1881, and the mine went into operation in 1883. The mined borax was transported out of the valley on mules. In its heyday, the Borax Works employed 40 people. In the summer when the temperatures were at their highest the borax crystallized, which made it unusable, so the Works went on hiatus for a couple of months and the workers were temporarily relocated to other plants in California. The life of the Harmony Borax Works was short-lived, and 5 short years after opening it was closed in 1888.
Feeling buoyed by our short hike we felt up for a more challenging adventure and headed out to Mosaic Canyon. This 4-mile round trip starts out flat then starts to climb before disappearing into a canyon hidden in the barren mountains. The trail is not too tricky but the passage does get narrow in a couple of spots and there is a bit of scrambling but the reward is the sight of some amazing rock formations and structures. The closeness of the canyon walls at the end of the trail make the intensity of the early afternoon heat all the more overbearing and we are glad when we finally reach the sanctuary of the car and the blissful air conditioning.
We headed back to the Oasis for some lunch and a siesta. As evening descended on us we decided to head out to Artist Palette & Artist Drive, which as the name suggests has rock formations with some of the most incredible colours. We, of course, had to stop and admire these and snap some photos as the fading lights brought out the diversity of colours even more dramatically.
To finish our day we head to Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in North America. We decided to take the short walk on the boardwalks out onto the salt flats but waited until the relative cool of dusk to do this, which also gave us the chance to see an amazing sunset.
The next morning we set off for Las Vegas, it was a glorious day and as we climbed the surrounding hills we were treated to some amazing views across the valley below towards the mountains.