Death Valley National Park is located in southeast California, along the border with Nevada. The Park slants from Northwest to Southeast. There are four entrances to the Park from the east. The northernmost entrance is closed, for reasons I will explain shortly. I am staying at an Airbnb in Pahrump, Nevada. Pahrump is a variation of the Southern Paiute Indian words for “Water Rock,” for the abundance of artesian wells in the area.
Sunday I drove from Pahrump north about an hour to the town of Beatty, then headed west towards the second northern entrance. As soon as I crossed the state line in to California I was in Death Valley National Park. The Park is huge – over 5,200 square miles. Death Valley proper is about 3,000 square miles, in the center of the Park.
I’ve always pictured Death Valley as a flat, dry, empty desert. Well, Death Valley proper basically is that. But the desert floor lies between two long mountain ranges, the Amargosa Range to the east and the Panamint Range to the west, so it truly is in a valley. The mountains on both sides are very tall, close to or over 10,000 feet. The highest point is called Telescope Peak, in the western range, and it tops out at 11,049 feet. The mountains are devoid of trees but are nonetheless very colorful in their own way. Many shades of brown, gray, and green create some very interesting patterns and there is a wide variety as you travel through the valley.
After entering the Park I needed to climb over the Amargosa mountains to get to the desert floor. Actually, first I still had to get to the Amargosa mountains….
It took about 15 minutes but after getting over the mountains I was finally at the desert floor.
The majority of the paved roads in the Park run along the base of the Amargosa Mountains on the east side of the desert. I headed towards Scotty’s Castle, and then to the place where the road ends.
Scotty’s Castle is one of the two Visitor Centers in the Park. It is a very ornate structure, and I would have loved to have seen it – but the road to it is closed. On October 18, 2015 the northern part of the valley received over 3 inches of rain in a 5 hour period. Needless to say, the desert isn’t prepared to handle that amount of rain (more than they get in a whole year!). The roads were severely damaged, and while the Castle didn’t suffer any structural damage, there was cleanup work to do and obviously the roads must be fixed in order to get to it. Over $50 million dollars in damage. And Trump would rather spend money on his goofy military parade than fix one of America’s major National Parks.
These photos are from a sign at the Grapevine Ranger Station. If you want to play along at home you can find a map of the Park on the US Park Service website, or just Google “Death Valley National Park map”.
So since I couldn’t go to the Castle I continued northward until the paved road ended. This put me at an overlook which let me peer down into Ubehebe Crater.
Here is an aerial view from a sign at the overlook:
Ubehebe (you say it just like it’s spelled: U-bee Hee-bee) is not the result of a meteor strike, but rather a volcanic eruption – similar to what is currently going on in Hawaii. Magma underground hits ground water and the resulting steam must find relief, and the path of least resistance in this case was UP. Rocks and debris were scattered over a 6 square mile area. The resulting crater is 1/2 mile across and 500 feet deep.
Here is a panorama sequence, looking left to right:
Here is a view the the bottom of the crater:
And here is a closer look at the far side, looking from my vantage point:
Since this was the end of the road I headed back the way I came to go to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, the only one currently open. The story continues in the next post.