Is it really a valley of death?

Trip Start Jul 04, 2012
Trip End Jun 04, 2013

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Where I stayed
Death Valley National Park
What I did
Scotty's Castle, Badwater Basin. Dante's View, Stovepipe Wells
Mesquite Flat Dunes, Zabriskie Point, Ubehebe Crater, Harmony Borax Works
Titus Canyon, Artist's Drive, Leadfield Ghost Town

Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, November 11, 2012

Death Valley is an area of extremes: lowest (in elevation in North America), hotest (in the world) and driest (less than 2 inches of rainfall per year).  It conjures up visions of barren landscapes and sun-parched skeletons.......but in reality Death Valley National Park teems with life and has some of the most beautiful ecosystems we have seen yet.

We pulled into the park with excitement and eagerness, along with a little fear.  We decided to stay "unplugged" for the duration of our two week stay, counting on the fact that temperatures wouldn't get too hot or too cold in November and that there was always the availability of drinkable water.  The first rule in the desert - have LOTS of water!!  We camped in Furnance Creek, an oasis of palms and mesquite trees that offered all the creature comforts - gas station, food, laundrymat and of course, a hot spring-fed pool!

Our first day we were greeted by, and chatted to, one of several great Park Rangers.  Armed with the Ranger Programs schedule and a detailed map of Death Valley, we began exploring this incredible area.  Technically speaking, Death Valley is not a valley but rather a basin, formed by the land being pulled apart by earthquakes.  Volcanoes, earthquakes, wind and flash floods have formed mountains(11000ft), canyons, salt basins (282ft below sea level) and sand dunes.  The colours of the area are vast - blue greens, burgundy reds, black, golden browns, and each area of DVNP supports various ecosystems.  Saltwater pupfish and pickleweed below sealevel, desert packrats, chuckwallas and beavertail cactus in canyons, and pinyon pine and bighorn sheep at higher elevations.

We spent a fun few hours at the famed Scotty's Castle, learning about the rich cowboy and the con man who lied to him.  One man who started out as a swindler but became the dear friend of a rich investor who thought he was funding a gold mine.  In the end there was no gold but a beautiful retreat in the oasis of Grapevine Canyon, complete with pool, electricity and refrigeration using hydropower from the natural springs.

During our stay we attended many Ranger Programs, on topics covering ecology, biology, geology, archeology, natural history and history of the area. Along with learning about the plants, animals and land formations, we learned about mining borax and the "twenty mule teams". Death Valley was invaded during the 1850 - 1880s by miners looking to find gold, silver, lead and borax. Most settlements quickly ended as ghost towns, but borax (used as a chemical binding agent in just about everything!) was successful and was transported out by large teams of mules. 

By the end of our stay we knew so much about Death Valley and have fallen in love with it's harsh beauty.  With the desert life is every where, you just need to know where to look for it and when.  California is blessed with such vast different terrain - we are going to check out another famous desert - Mojave National Preserve - close to Death Valley but with some fascinating differences!

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