Death Valley National Park, Part 4: Sightseeing and Touristing
Our last day at Death Valley was packed with multiple short hikes, pieced together from our plans that had included areas effected by recent mudslides. We began the morning driving up to Dante’s View where I had planned our first hike along the Black Peaks. But at 5,500 feet the gusting wind, combined with below-freezing temperatures made us think twice. Even Abby sought shelter from the bitter wind. So instead of hiking up the peaks we decided to walk out along a path from the viewpoint for about a half mile. The view is pretty incredible to say the least. The blue and white of Badwater Basin below is gorgeous, offset against the oranges and browns of the valley floor and the colored badlands visible at the base of the Black Mountains are fantastic, but what I thought was truly spectacular were the alluvial fans bursting from the base of the Panamint Mountain range to the west.
After descending from the Black Mountains we made a brief stop at the famous Zabriskie Point, a section of warm brown and creamy beige striped badlands near the valley proper. We then proceeded south towards an even more famous place in Death Valley: Badwater Basin. Dropped by tectonic activity 282 feet below sea level, the basin is coated in crystallized salt, deposited from mountain runoff. Being so far below sea level the water remains trapped until it eventually evaporates, leaving only the collection of salt and other minerals. A month prior to our visit there had been record flooding which left much more water in the basin than usual (as we saw earlier that morning from Dante’s View) but the salt flats near the lowest point remained above water and so I was able – along with about a hundred other people – to walk out and see the crystallized patterns and shimmering deposits up close.
Looking for some more opportunities to walk (and fewer people) we then headed to Natural Bridge Canyon which contained, as promised, a natural bridge formed by water erosion. We reached the bridge fairly quickly from the trailhead and decided to keep walking, soon encountering a series of dryfalls that required some scrambling. The canyon never really narrowed nor became remarkable after the natural bridge, but it was a nice little walk with a few fun scrambles.
With a couple hours left before dark we decided to make one more stop to do the 2 1/2 mile out and back in Golden Canyon despite it being another popular place that would likely be busy. Though we were more-than-over the crowds we found enough in the canyon to pique our interest, such as the creamy mudstone and swirled badlands as we approached the red sandstone wall at the end of the canyon. I too enjoyed attempting to capture the disappearing sunlight and the growing shadows as they moved over the canyon rim, and also the way the low light illuminated the rock at the mouth of the canyon.