Death Valley-Beautiful Desolation

The Sheppard’s have officially settled into our home for the winter just outside of Winter Park Colorado.  Our sabbatical fun is far from over though!  Before I can tell you about our Rocky Mountain winter adventures I need to fill everyone in on the rest of the details from our journey out west.  So the time is the end of October 2016 and the place is Death Valley National Park.  Enjoy!

There is beauty in desolation, it is something that has to be experienced for itself. When we decided to go to Death Valley National Park, I was skeptical that I would find anything there of interest or beauty, it’s just a desert after all.  It turns out the night sky sparkles over the desert, and the sun casts shadows and light making the most boring shades of beige, tan, and brown gleam with a richness that would please any artist palette.  It is alive with life, the roadrunner and Desert Big Horn Sheep call this place home, along with countless other plants and animals.

For our Death Valley adventure we camped at a place called “The Pads” just 10 minutes outside the entrance of the southern end of the park. It was free to camp there on the concrete pads that were once the site of a long since abandoned mobile home park that housed miners and their families.  “The Pads” was once full of promise and hope, like many of the ghost towns and old mines that make up Death Valley’s history and landscape.  For a visit to Death Valley “The Pads” proved an excellent choice to set up shop for a few days. Can’t beat flat and free camping!

Death Valley is full of American Dream History, there is story after story of explorers and miners flocking to the valley to stake their claim, make their riches, and build their lives. On our first day we explored the Badwater Basin, a salt flat that sits 282 feet below sea level, one of the lowest points on land in Northern America. Tourists can walk way out onto the salt flats, many scrawl their initials in the dry, white salty ground.  The day we visited was super windy, our clothes suctioning to our bodies as we put one foot in front of the other making our way across the flats.  As we exited the basin area it was easy to see where the name “Badwater” came from.  There was a shallow pool only a few inches deep on the edge of the salt flat and it stunk like a rotten egg or sewer gas.  Legend has it the name came from a cowboy who brought his horse to water here and even the horse wouldn’t drink the nasty, pungent water.  After we left the Salt Basin we continued north through Death Valley to explore the site of the former Harmony Borax Works.  We were able to see the ruins of the former plant and learn more about the history of the town and people who worked there.  We rounded out our first day with a sunset view at Zabriskie point.  A must see for anyone visiting Death Valley, Zabriskie point over looks many sand dunes and rock formations that change in color from a pale vanilla to a rich chocolate brown.  The sky is full and open over the point lending a magical quality to quietly beautiful sunsets here.

On our second day we hiked to the Natural Bridge, a gorgeous canyon full of geological features that have been created by the elements over time. As we finished our hike we headed toward the car and I noticed it looked like there was a giant body of water across from us, but in reality there was nothing there but flat, empty land.  It was my first experience of the desert mirage, crazy how the sunlight and eyes can play tricks! Later that day we drove just across the border into Nevada to a ghost town called Rhyolite.  It is the site of an open air museum with some very interesting pieces.  I have to admit it felt like we had stumbled into a scene of a horror movie arriving at the ghost town and seeing some very haunting works of art next to dilapidated buildings and rusted out cars.  Once I relaxed it was interesting to walk around and read about the history of the buildings and the town.  Centered around the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1904 the town grew rapidly to a population of over 5,000 at its heyday, with electricity being installed in 1907. By 1911 the mine was closed and the town population quickly moved on to other endeavors, leaving the buildings to rot.  I love a good old cemetery, and Rhyolite has a great one.  It’s interesting to walk around and read the names and dates and wonder what people’s lives were like so long ago. Many of the graves no longer have markers or have wooden markers that are weathered and worn, no longer bearing the name of the person below.  Well worth a stop if visiting the Death Valley Area.  We finished out the day at Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  A 3 mile drive through fluffy dunes and rock/mineral formations.  We left the truck and scrambled to the top of a dune to watch the bats fly around at sunset.  An awesome sight and we were the only people around, it felt like we owned the world!

After a few days in the desert it was time to pack up and head further west. On the way out we encountered an interesting phenomenon.  We were pulling the camper and it looked as though we were going downhill but it felt like we going uphill.  I checked my Altimeter and sure enough, even though it looked like we were going down we were climbing.  Also a word to the wise, if you happen to be pulling a camper or even driving an RV exit Death Valley through the south instead of making the climb to the north and the west, you’ll save yourself from having a bad day.  Although you will get a lot of time to work on your tan while you wait for the truck to cool off in the hot desert sun.


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