Our first stop of the day was between the town of Beatty, NV, and the park entrance, the ghost town of Rhyolite, named after a pinkish colored rock.
The mining community sprang up in 1905 and by 1907 had been developed to the point of having electric lights, piped water, newspapers, hospital, school, opera house, and a stock exchange. But its prosperity fell almost as quickly as it had grown. The richest of the gold ore was soon mined, production fell, and folks began to move on. By 1920, the population was almost zero.
The most interesting ruin left in Rhyolite is Tom Kelly’s Bottle House, a three room house whose entire outer wall was made of bottles, mostly beer bottles from the town’s saloons.
The bottle house was one of 3 such houses built in Rhyolite. If you’re interested in history, a great site on Rhyolite is here.
A beautiful pass winds through the mountains.
Then you top the last rise, and Death Valley is spread out below.
At first glance, the shimmering saline surface appears to be water.
Not far from where we entered the valley lies the Harmony Borax Works plant site. Beginning in the 1880’s borax, nicknamed “white gold of the desert” was mined for the manufacture of soap and other industrial uses. The product had to be moved 165 miles to the nearest railway; this was accomplished by “twenty-mule teams” giving the product the name and trade slogan, twenty mule team borax. The teams were actually most often teams of 18 mules and two horses each pulling a 10 ton capacity wagon. Round trip took about 30 days.
Probably what did more to popularize Death Valley than any other thing was the creation of the show, Death Valley Days, sponsored by what else but “20 Mule Team Borax”. The half hour show premiered in 1952 and episodes aired on a regular basis until 1970. Several actors hosted the show with the longest serving being Stanley Andrews as the Old Ranger. Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor, Dale Robertson, and Merle Haggard also hosted.
A walking path leads past a set of wagons and the remains of the plant.
In 1894, the 20 Mule Team was replaced by “Old Dinah”, a steam tractor pulling more modern wagons. Before two many years passed, it would be replaced by a railroad.
The Visitor Center has recently been renovated and included several state of the art displays.
Driving down the road, you feel as if you can see forever.
We hiked a short way into Golden Canyon.
A road once led into this canyon, but in 1976 a heavy rain caused a rock/mud slide that obliterated the paved surface and the road was never rebuilt. You can still walk (and sit) on remains of the pavement.
Looking across Death Valley, you can see some of the many alluvial fans. Alluvial fans are areas debris flow formed during the rare but intense storms that send water flooding down through the canyons. At the mouth of the canyon, the debris settles out into a fan shaped area.
The road continues to descend, bottoming out at 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin. This is the lowest elevation in the western hemisphere.
A board walk leads out over the small body of water to the flats beyond.
Like any good tourist, we had to have the classic photo, made possible by each taking a shot and creative editing with Photoshop Elements.
This is the entrance to Artist’s Palette, a section of the park full of rainbow colored stone.
The view from half way up the drive is rather spectacular.
At the main pull out, the rock looks as if it has been splashed with paint.
Although most of Death Valley is very arid and dry there are springs throughout the park, evidenced by sudden areas of green trees and growth.
Furnace Creek Inn is located in a beautiful setting with a pool fed by springs.
Sitting high above Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the park, is Dante’s View, considered the best viewpoint in the park at 5,475 feet elevation. From here, you can see not only the lowest point in the park, but also across the valley, the highest point, Telescope Peak, at 11,049 feet. On a clear day, you might also spot the highest point in the contiguous states, Mt. Whitney, over 85 miles away, standing 14,496 feet!
The road winds up steeply for the last 5 miles with tight hairpin curves.
The view is almost straight down to Badwater Basin. We were too far away to even spot the tourists that we knew were now walking there.
Looking down on the road leading to Badwater Basin:
Last stop of the day was at Zabriskie Point. Ron decided he had done enough walking for the day, so I left him on a park bench at the start of the short trail. I was not disappointed with the view.
To be continued with Day 2….