Death Valley and Joshua Tree
Watch a 4 minute slide show on our March 2018 trip
- Death Valley was given its name in 1850 by a group of stranded miners who after being rescued reportedly said “Good-bye Death Valley”.
- Death Valley is the largest park in the US outside of Alaska. It was designated a National Monument in 1933 and a National Park in 1994.
- On the surface it appears to be nothing but a vast wasteland. But when you investigate further you discover that there are many life forms that manage to live in Death Valley – vultures (lots of them), bats, snakes, lizards, coyotes, big horn sheep, road runners, tortoises, poppies, creosote and mesquite to name just a few.
- My favorite is the Salt Creek Pupfish. I was amazed to discover a perennial creek, 4 times saltier than the ocean. Some pupfish have iridescent coloring. It was interesting to watch them defend their territory.
- We saw a Chuckwalla which is a large lizard.
- Death Valley is a geologist’s dream. There are amazing rock formations and colors. They tell a story about ancient lakes and tectonic forces.
- Borax was the most valuable mineral extracted from Death Valley surpassing gold and silver. The Harmony Borax Works is famous for its Twenty Mule Teams and Death Valley Days. They carried 700 gallons of water on every trip to the train station. Mining operations ceased in summer because it was too hot for the borax to crystallize.
- We hiked three slot canyons (a slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide): Mosaic, Titus and Golden. I’ve always been intrigued by slot canyons. It’s like walking in a tunnel with no roof. And it’s incredible to see how the flash floods have shaped the canyons.
- Titus Canyon includes a road to Beatty Nevada. We encountered several vehicles during our hike. I’d be interested in renting a jeep and making that drive next time.
- Scotty’s Castle is closed due to flooding. It is not expected to reopen until 2020 which might be a good excuse to go back. Instead of driving, I’d fly to Las Vegas and rent a jeep. It’s about 150 miles.
- Thriving in Death Valley = adaptability + persistence
- We visited the Ubehebe Crater which is 600’ deep and ½ mile across. It is a maar volcano. Hot magma contacts ground water, steam forms, creating tremendous pressure and eventually explosions. There’s an entire field of craters which we walked around. We read conflicting accounts of when they were formed. They may be as new as 800 years ago but likely are much older.
- We stayed at the Ranch at Death Valley. It is a short drive from the Furnace Creek Inn. It’s like an oasis – lots of trees, grass and water.
- We had maybe the worst meal we have ever had to pay for at the diner on the grounds of The Ranch. We each ordered the brisket and it looked like a cross between jerky, bacon and shoe leather. It was beyond tough. It was dried out, flavorless and just awful. I commented to CeCe that compared to what the stranded 1849-50 party had available, this was pretty darn good. She said that if it had come down to having to choose between this brisket and a fellow miner, she’d choose the miner!
- We only had one place where parking was as issue – Badwater. But like the other parking areas, there is ample off-road parking adjacent to the lot.
- Badwater got its name from a miner who declared that it was some pretty bad water because his thirsty mule refused to drink it (too salty).
- Badwater is the lowest point in the US at -282’ below sea level.
- Death Valley epitomizes what I love about the desert. That is, it takes desire and a willingness to look beneath the surface to appreciate it and to love it.
- It took around 4 hours to drive to Joshua Tree.
- It also became a National Park in 1994.
- Joshua trees were named by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
- The highlight of our visit was hiking the Panorama Trail. We gained some elevation which provided several rewards: the Joshua Trees grew taller and fuller; and we had incredible 360’ views that included snow capped mountains.
- We drove through the park and were delighted to see huge swaths of Joshua Trees among all varieties of rock formations. Very dramatic.
- Joshua Trees give me the same vibe that our Saguaro cacti do. They come in many different shapes and sizes. To me they appear to be animated and to the Native Americans Saguaros each have a spirit.
- We made stops at Hidden Canyon and Skull Rock. Hidden Canyon is a box canyon that we used by rustlers into the 1900s. They’d rustle cattle from surrounding areas and states, drive them into Hidden Canyon, re-brand them and sell them.
- Unfortunately Hidden Canyon was overrun so it was difficult to relax and really take everything in.
- Overall, Joshua Tree felt way more crowded than Death Valley.
- I think we saw enough in one day so that I don’t see us ever going back.