Death Valley National Park - Breathtaking!

Trip Start Jan 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2007

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

We all remember "Death Valley Days" and the 20 Mule Team Borax team trudging through the desert. Never, our wildest imagination, could we have dreamed how breathtaking and beautiful an area named Death Valley could be. It's the largest of the National Parks, covering 3.4 million acress, 95% of which is designated wilderness. The colors, contrasts of desert flats and rough rocky mountains cannot be explained. The highest peak, Telescope peak is in the Panamint Mountains, and rises to 11,049 feet elevation. It lies only 15 miles from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (one of the lowest points in the world, actually), which is Badwater Basin, at 282 feet BELOW sea level. The entire area is full of contrasts - a somewhat humorous one, we thought was the sign for "Death Valley Health Center" - an oxymoron if there ever was one!
During our day-long drive through Death Valley National Park, we put over 200 miles on the car, and couldn't help but think of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of goldrush pioneers who trudged across this "shortcut" to the California goldfields. The roads through the park are well-maintained, hilly and windy, fun for an old race car driver! We enjoyed the first "top down kind of day" in many months, as it was in the 80's and sunny, and we both got rosy cheeks and noses. I'm sure it wouldn't be so enjoyable in the summer, when the temperature averages about 113 degrees. Interestingly enough, the record high (134 degrees in July) and record low (15 degrees in January), both occurred in 1913. By the way, those were Fahrenheit temperatures - translation for our Canadian readers: 57 degrees Celsius and -9 degrees Celsius.
Furnace Creek is a natural oasis in a salt brine desert - its natural springs produce more than one million gallons of water a day! Because of this the Furnace Creek area houses the park's only inn and resort - Furnace Creek Inn, built in 1927, which appears to be a mirage of lush green grass and palm trees - amazing. We stopped here for lunch, an unexpected gourmet meal in a beautiful setting!
After driving about an hour and a half from Pahrump, we were in the park proper, and one of the first side roads we followed was to Dante's Ridge. This is the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park - a mountain-top overlook more than 5,000 feet above Death Valley.
After a bit more of a drive, we arrived at Furnace Creek, and enjoyed exploring this historic inn and its lush surroundings.
We took a scenic loop called "Artists Drive" through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills. If Crayola had produced a BIG BIG box of Crayons called "earth tones" they couldn't have captured all the incredible colors we saw today. I can only hope my camera captured a fraction of the beauty.
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