Death Valley - survived unscathed

Trip Start Apr 08, 2005
Trip End Apr 09, 2006

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, August 22, 2005

We get up early today to try and reach Death Valley before the intense heat of mid-day.

But first we grab some breakfast on the Strip, amazingly there are still many people gambling, allbeit at the $2 or $3 tables and the slot machines.

The road towards Death Valley National Park is very busy with cars - there are many billboards on the roadside advertising cars for sale, but various levels of repair required! There are two principal routes to the park. We find a road block due to flooding on the route we want to take (ie to Badwater Basin - the longer more thorough route). This, however doesn't stop us - we take the route we'd planned, after all can there really be flooding at this time in the desert? - it hasn't rained recently we think.....

Facts of Death Valley ("DV"):
1. DV is the hottest and driest place in the US. A temp of 134 degrees F, the second highest ever recorded in the world, was noted in 1913 (only Libya has ever beaten that record with a recorded temp of 136 F in 1922).
2. The valley receives less than 2 inches of rain per year.
3. In 2001 DV recorded 154 days in a row with temperatures of 100 F or above - the greatest number of consecutive days with three digit temperatures.
4. On average DV is the hottest place in the world. July is characteristically the hottest month with an average temp of 116 degrees.

We recorded a maximum 121 degrees F (50 degrees C) in the car, but believe it was actually several degrees higher, as recorded at a gas station.

At about midday, we find ourselves at the lowest point in the Western Hemishphere; Badwater Basin, -282 feet below sea level. It is very unusual saltland landscape - ie the ground is white, just like salt!! We take a short 20 min walk out on Badwater Basin, Ad returns to the car totally shattered from the heat. There are many notices throughout the park of the dangers of DV; Dehydration, rattlesnakes, mines and shafts etc.

DV has the most surreal landscape we have seen so far; including sinuous sand dunes, shimmering white slat flats, intricately contoured badlands riddled by rushing water and copper coloured canyon walls. 20,000 years ago Lake Manly was formed from melted glaciers, this was the last noted lake in the park, although it has now completed dried up, it is clear to the human eye exactly where it once was.

Some of the sites along DV route include; Funeral Peak, Coffin Peak and Devils Golf Course. We stop at Furnace Creek for a picnic in the shade, admiring the old carts and trucks. Historically DV was a mining operation (borax mining), until the US economy worsened and mining towns became ghost towns, thus leaving crumbling mines in their wake. Consequently the need for the famous 20 mule team wagons hauling the processed borax 165 miles across the desert to the railroad, died.

The experience of driving through desert desolation and walking on the lowest point helps us both agree that Death Valley is one of the most memorable experiences of our trip to date.

Once out of DV we drive North past the town of Bishop to a small town, June Lake, not too far from Yosemite National park. But we find it very difficult to get accomadation, let alone reasonably priced accomadation! Its two very tired Irish people when we finally find accomadation.
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