Death Valley appears strange and other worldly. If you wanted to make a movie that takes place on another planet, this is the place you should come. As you look around, you need to put aside all preconceived notions. When you see something that looks like a recently plowed field full of dirt clods rimed with bits of frost, you are really in the Devil’s Golf Course, which is no place that anyone would ever want to putt a golf ball. Large clods of soil are lightly layered with salt deposits. Some get thick enough to look like clumps of lace. When you come to white snowy looking fields, as white as the snow in the mountains above them, that crunch you hear beneath your feet is not snow; it’s salt. At Badwater, the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet below sea level, run off from occasional rains joins water burbling up from underground springs. Once the water evaporates in the desert heat, salt deposits are left behind. It’s easy to imagine how disappointed early travelers were to come upon this water and find it impossible to drink. Badwater.
In one place the water is fresh enough to sustain an oasis of palm trees. This is where the Desert Inn was built in 1927. We enjoyed the view at a pricey lunch and overheard guests discussing the price of their rooms - going up from $270/night to $359 this weekend. I’d much rather be in my $20 campground with equally great scenery. The inn has a heated fresh water pool filled with warm water from springs. For $5 we could swim there.
As we drive around the park we see so many different colored mountains and rock formations. We know that many people tried to mine here back in the day and wonder how they knew where to dig for what they wanted. Probably many of them were disappointed. In some place we see tailings - or are they natural mineral deposits? There are so many variations, that is hard for a rookie to decide what she is seeing.
A sizable fortune was made here mining borax. A box of Twenty Mule Team borax was a regular in my mother’s laundry room. Borax can be part of the minerals left behind after evaporation and early miners scraped it from the ground and refined it here so there would be less to haul out. How they got teams of twenty mules all headed in the same direction and working cooperatively boggles the mind. Half the forty ton load they pulled was water, which they needed for themselves to make the trip. Refining operations stopped in the summer because it was too hot for the chemical processes to finish. What a relief!
We stopped at the lowest golf course in the world which guarantees that you will have your lowest game there. We won’t have time to play there during this visit, but will be in the area again. It’s on the to do list.
The Park is huge - 140 miles long, 56 miles wide. There is no way we could see it all and under current conditions we will see less than usual. Some of the roads are closed due to the large flood last October. Others are closed due to freezing conditions at higher elevations because of the recent rain. The roads around Telescope Peak over 11,000 feet won’t be open until the middle of the summer when all the snow finally melts.