Monday, March 7, 2011
Death Valley National Park II
Monday March 7 2011
Unforgiving heat. Punishing dryness. Rugged mountains. Spectacular scenery. Sound inviting?
Those are just a few of Death Valley National Park's claims to fame. Death Valley supposedly got its name when the Bennett-Arcane wagon train party bound for California finally staggered out of the valley on foot in December of 1849, after being unable to find their way out for weeks, and having burned their wagons for fuel to cook their oxen they had to eat to survive. After they made it out, a woman purportedly looked back at the valley, and said, "Goodbye, Death Valley." Had they stumbled into this valley in the summer, it's likely nobody would have been left to name anything.
William Lewis Manley was part of the wagon train who found a way out through the Panamint Valley and the Slate Range through Fish Canyon, returning the same way with supplies for the stranded wagon party and leading them out. The 4-day Death Valley Encounter Endurance ride used to follow this route. You can't help but think of the pioneers who stumbled through here - and the Indians that survived in and around here - long ago. The 20-Mule Team endurance ride, held in Ridgecrest, California, not far from here, is named after the 20-mule wagon teams that pulled the borax-laden wagons from the Death Valley mines in the late 1800's.
Death Valley became a National Monument in 1933, and in 1994 became a National Park, widening its borders. You can hike anywhere in the 5,262 square miles, from 262 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin all the way to the top of Telescope Peak, at 11,049 feet. Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, is less than 80 miles away and can be seen from Telescope Peak on a clear day. In fact, crazy people compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon Run, 'The World's Toughest Foot Race', 135 miles from Badwater to Mt Whitney portal at 8000' - in JULY.
You can find warnings everywhere about the extreme temperatures and dangers of the heat in summer which can easily hit 120* and above (record was 134* in 1913). Even the names of some of the features are formidable: Funeral Mountains, Furnace Creek, Devil's Golf Course, Badwater.
I did an easy 4-mile hike near Badwater, hiking up Golden Canyon to the base of the dramatic Red Cathedral cliffs, climbing up and over into the next big wash, Gower Gulch, passing old Borax mines, spectacular canyons and colorful badlands. The colors that Mother Nature has concocted and blended together make a dazzling portrait of a fascinating landscape.
Already the temperature was reaching the 80's in parts of the canyons - just about time for me to leave Death Valley. It's one of America's most magnificent parks - just spend your time there in the winter.
(Slide show here:)