Here I am again, a day late with my Travel Tip Thursday post, a writing prompt that encourages you to share the secrets of a special place to visit. Today, I’m taking you to
Death Valley in July. It’s a place that most folks would want to avoid as the temperature in the afternoon soar to the 120 degree mark, near 50 degrees Celsius! But that was not the case with me two weeks ago.
As I shared earlier, due to Thunderstorms, it took us two days to fly out west. That, and some other business needs that had come up, we had to change our planned schedule. We were going to start with a long drive from Vegas to Virginia City and then work our way back to Southern Utah before heading back to Vegas in time for the Saturday wedding. But having lost a day, we decided we would forgo the trip to
Virginia City, which left us with dilemma. Just where should we spend our extra days? My daughter, who has an interest in weather, had recently read in a weather magazine about the hottest day ever recorded in the western hemisphere. This happened back in 1913 (and was the world’s record for a few years, until a reading in Africa topped it). The temperature rose to 134 degrees, so hot that the person reading the thermometer wrapped himself in a wet towel as he went out to read the gauge and when he came back inside, the towel was dry. They were not calling for such extreme temperatures (only into the low 120s), so we decided to head over to Death Valley.
The drive from Vegas was beautiful, as a nearly full moon rose over the mountains, lighting up the desert in a soft light. We spent the night at the Longstreet Hotel and Casino in
Amargosa Valley, which is across the Funeral Mountains from Death Valley. It was a warm night and I was up early, before the sun, enjoying what little coolness the low desert brings while I photographed the valley. The temperature must have been in the upper 80s and a warm breeze was blowing from the south. Knowing that it was going to be a hot day, we headed into the valley early.
Our first stop was at Death Valley Junction, a small community that was once a railroad stop on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad (a line that was abandoned in 1947, if I remember correctly). Like many towns in the west, it had an opera house. Unlike many, the opera house is still open, but we’d gotten in too late on Saturday to catch a show.
From Death Valley Junction, we headed west, into the park on Highway 190 which climbs up over theDante's Point, looking north (Mesquite bush to right of photo)
. We took the side road up to Dante’s point, which at 5000+ feet, provides the best look of the valley from the east side. From there, the valley looms north and south, looking barren and dry. It was warm, so I’d windows down so the car wouldn’t heat up so much, but that was a mistake. The parking lot was filled with bees and many of them came inside the car. When I got back, I drove the car around, doing donuts in the parking lot with the windows down, slinging out bees. Twice, on our drive down from Dante’s point, I had to pull over and swish out a bee as another one came to the surface. Amargosa Mountains
Dante Point, looking south. Although hot, the clouds keep us from boiling under the sun!
Next stop was Zabriskie Point, a beautiful display of colorful rocks weathered by millenniums of erosion. After hiking to the top of the point, in temperatures soaring well into the triple digits, we all cooled off with bottles of cool water.
After getting to the valley floor, we drove south to Badwater, the lowest elevation in the
, and some 285 feet below sea level. The last time I’d been in the valley, it was filled with yellow flowers with exception of the lake around Badwater. In July, there are no flowers, just baked rock and a few hardy plants and the lake has been reduced to small puddle. Where the lake had been, there was a large barren salt flat.. As water evaporates in the valley, it leaves behind salts. The soil in this barren area is more than 6% salts, a chemical desert where nothing grows. In other places, where the salt level is 3-6%, pickleweed will grow. From .5% to 3%, arrowweed grows. United States , the familiar plant in this country, only grows in soils with less than .5% salts, soil still too salty for most plants. Mesquite
I hiked out into the salt flats, breathing in the hot air. In most places, a 1000 feet change in elevation results in a temperature change of 3 degrees, but because of the nature of the Death Valley basin, every 1000 change results in a 5 ½ degree change. Heat is trapped in the basin which is why temperatures in the summer often reach over 120 degrees (50 degrees C).
After Badwater, we headed back north and to the Furnace Creek Ranch, the spot that was once known for the hottest temperature in the world. When we arrived, the temperature was 116, it was 120 by the time we had finished touring the museum. We then ate lunch and decided to get out of the heat by driving north, through the Valley and heading over daylight pass toward Beatty,
Nevada (known for and legal brothels). Just before Beatty, we made another stop at Rhyolite, a town which once had a population of over 10,000, but today has only a handful of folks living there. I’ll post more about Rhyolite in a future post. hot springs
Sage's travel tip for Death Valley: Bring plenty of water and sunscreen!