Picks and Pans – Death Valley N.P.

Driving through Mojave National Preserve

Sean says: Thanks to a recommendation from Michael, we made our way from Joshua Tree to Death Valley via the scenic Kelbaker road through the Mojave National Preserve.

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

Sean says: Zabriskie Point is a nice stop on your way into Death Valley from the southeast entrance. From on top of the vista point you get a great view over the badlands and into the valley. Hiking on the 2 mile loop trail into the badlands was interesting in parts with somewhat different views of the area, but was very badly marked, so we spent a bit of time wandering aimlessly in the various washes and to this day we’re not exactly sure where we were supposed to be hiking.

Devil’s Golf Course

I could think of much more uncomfortable and inconvenient things to do on the jagged salt crystal formations at Devil’s Golf Course than playing a round of golf, but I suppose the namer was pining for the lush greens of another place when he looked over the sparkling field of white in Death Valley. Perhaps if he had stood quietly for a bit longer, the spot would have been christened for the soft symphony of metallic pings that heralds the destruction of salt crystals as the sun warms them throughout the day.

Salt Flats at Badwater

The heavy footsteps of the crowds have flattened the Salt Flats into a thick crust, so to see the intricate beauty of the crystalline salt structures we had to walk away from the parking lot until the crust became more uneven and eventually blossomed into a field of tiny, icy growths.

Artist’s Drive past Artist’s Palette

Sean says: When I saw Artist’s Palette on the park guide, I thought it would be neat, but figured we’d already seen the Painted Desert in Arizona earlier on the trip. However, the Artist’s Palette drive was really something and quite different than the Painted Desert. Imagine streaked hills similar to the Painted Desert in the background, but hill size dollups of red, white, purple and green paint in the foreground that really give the impression of an artist’s palette. Give yourself the better part of an hour to really take in surroundings and finish 30 minutes before sunset to get the best light (that we unfortunately missed).

Showers at the Stove Pipe Wells Motel

Sean says: Nice hot showers at an ok price ($4 each). Don’t expect the wifi to work unless they get a better IT team. Also be warned that they have a security guard that circles the motel in his golf cart. Since the motel is in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Death Valley), the security guard’s only real concern is finding penny pinchers like ourselves that didn’t shell out the $80 to stay at the motel (and were trying to avoid shelling out $15 for a spot in the “campground”, i.e. parking lot across the street). Our van’s incognito exterior might have slipped under the radar had it not been for the light of my computer screen as I tried to edit a few pictures before going to sleep. After peering past our blinds with his spotlight and rapping on our window to kick us off the motel’s private property, we headed up the road 10 miles to the free Emigrant campground.

Emigrant Campground

After our trip’s first encounter with a motel security guard (see Stovepipe Wells above), we made a late night drive out to one of Death Valley’s free campgrounds. Since we arrived there well after sunset, it just looked like a sanctioned parking spot to us, but upon waking, we found that Emigrant campground is in a satisfyingly stark part of the valley. And although it certainly looks remote, there were flush toilets and potable water available.

Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon was simply one of the most sensorily satisfying experiences on the road trip. The smooth marble walls ran like water underneath my fingertips as I walked through the narrows. The colors of the rocks flowed together in a current of gold, white, orange, purple, green, black and blue. And just when we were about to turn around, the sky opened up into a brilliant blue, the sunlight flowed down the canyon walls and we stood there stunned at the beauty of it all.

Ubehebe Crater

The Paiute believed that the first members of their tribe emerged from Ubehebe Crater. In current times, the way the desert mountain falls into itself in a fiery cascade of rust, gold and orange rock tells of the earth’s life blood emerging in violent shower that created, at the very least, a new wrinkle on the planet’s skin.

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