Travels with Lois and Jason

Valley of Marvelous Vistas

(aka Death Valley, California)

and the Valley of Fire, Nevada

February 2 - 8, 2015


Jason wanted to go to Death Valley for many years;  Lois was hesitant because of the heat and the fact that we had spent many hours traveling through deserts throughout the southwest and in Israel.  A couple of years ago Lois was given a Death Valley National Park book by one of her students with pictures of the spectacular landscapes that piqued her curiosity:  could a desert really be that beautiful?  We had to go and find out for ourselves.


We selected one of the coolest months of the year for our visit.  The temperature was in the high 70s and low 80s, but when walking in full sun in the canyons, to Lois it felt like a 100!


The floor of Death Valley stretches 150 miles between two mountain ranges, the snow covered Panamint Mountains on the west and Black and Funeral Mountains on the east.  The valley floor is impressively diverse: 

Lois There are areas that looked like
"hot fudge sundaes" with tuff (volcanic ash) on
the bottom and alluvial canyon dust on top

There is Devils Golf Course
made up of salt deposits

Lois There are creeks with Pupfish who have survived
from when there was a lake filling the valley 10,000
years ago.  The lake was 600 feet deep.

There are some areas that appeared barren,
but had little flower buds beginning to open. 
We were told that in another couple of weeks
these areas would be covered with wild flowers.
(The white in the background is salt.)

Lois There is a castle built by millionaire Albert Johnson
for his wife and named for his friend "Death Valley
Scotty," and called Scotty's Castle

There are ruins of  an industrial mining plant from
which 20 Mule Teams pulled Borax out of the valley

sea level
There are many signs that read "Elevation Sea Level" even
though we are hundreds of miles from the oceans

There is the Ubehebe volcanic looking
crater but not formed by a volcano

Lois There are areas of pyroclastic flows
from the supervolcano in Yellowstone
National Park about 1000 miles away

There are grand colorful vistas
of mountains across the valley

Lois And of course,
there are sand dunes
(after all, it is a desert!)


In summary, we never imagined that this valley would be so beautiful and the rock formations and colors so exquisite.


An even bigger surprise was the canyons which lined the valley.  We only explored four of the hundreds in Death Valley National Park, and two of these, Natural Bridge and Mosaic, were just awesome. 


The Natural Bridge Canyon trail was a relatively easy hike.  About one mile into the canyon we came around a bend in the trail and could see the bridge looming off in the distance.  Then of course, as we hiked to it we realized just how small we really are!!!

valley of fire valley of fire

valley of fire valley of fire

Mosaic Canyon earned its name from the terracotta marble that lined its sides:  WOW! 


valley of fire valley of fire
valley of fire valley of fire


Some Fun (and Interesting) Contrasts

At the National Park Visitor's Center we watched a video that presented the Valley as a world of contrasts:  old and young,  high and low, fast and slow, wet and dry, hot and hotter. And everywhere we looked, these contrasts abound.

Old and Young

Our very first stop in Death Valley was at a spot called Willow Creek.  Behind us we could see Turtle Rock, a rock that is 1.8 billion years old.  Later we went to the Badwater Basin and the salt flats.  We were told that every day new salt crystals are formed.  

High and Low

Lois This picture was taken at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level.  Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley, looms behind at 11,043 feet  above sea level.

Wet and Dry

Death Valley averages less than 2 inches of rain per year, making it the driest area in North America.  In some years there is no rain and in some years there are flash floods.  In the midst of this extremely dry desert there are springs which flow year round, creating oasis's and a habitat for fish.  Scotty's Castle was built at one of these springs, as was the Furnace Creek Ranch where we stayed. Furnace Creek has a hot spring, hence its name. We swam each afternoon in the 82 degree natural hot spring swimming pool. The water was changed every day and reused to water the grass and trees.

Hot and Hotter

The hottest air temperature ever recorded in Death Valley was 134 degrees, making it the hottest place on Earth.  Average winter temperatures are around 70 degrees while average summer temperatures are around 115 degrees.

Fast and Slow, Slow and Fast

This phrase refers to the geological forces shaping Death Valley (and actually the entire planet).  Our geologist guides explained that the earth's tectonic plates push against each other moving very slowly at about the same rate as our fingernails grow.  The pressure builds to a breaking point, taking perhaps hundreds or thousands of years.   Then there is a sudden release of the energy that we feel as an earthquake, lasting a few seconds, resulting in the geological shape of our planet. 


We saw other examples of slow and fast.  It isn't the annual tiny rainfall that creates the canyons and alluvial fans of Death Valley, it's the 100 year floods.  An alluvial fan is like a delta at the mouth of a river, the build up of the materials washed out of the canyon.  Because all the canyons in Death Valley flow into a relatively flat valley without any river to wash the debris away, the build up creates a fan like layer of dirt and rock.


Another example of slow and fast is the Ubehebe Crater.  A deep crack in the surface (called a fissure) allowed magma to creep toward the surface.  The magma hit a pocket of water that turned to steam.  In a matter of seconds, the tremendous pressure of the steam blew out a hole 600 feet deep and one-half mile across.


Slow and fast, fast and slow.  Fantastic idea when you think about them geologically


Valley of Fire and Native's Petroglyphs

Our first excursion was to the Valley of Fire, a Nevada State Park an hour drive north of Las Vegas.  It derives its name from red sandstone formations formed 150 million years ago.  We spent one day hiking a couple of very interesting trails and viewing the petroglyphs created some three to five thousand years ago by the native people that lived in the area. 

valley of fire
valley of fire valley of fire

valley of fire

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February 17, 2015