Friday, June 13, 2008

Death Valley National Park

Yea though I walk through the Valley of Death...
Hmm.. I think I've heard that line somewhere before.

But, we were not too worried. Our Chevy Tracker was full of fuel and we had plenty of drinking water with us. So off we went – into hell on earth. .

Death Valley is hot, dry, and low. They say it is a dry heat, so not so hot. That is a bunch of bull – it is HOT. It was only about 100 when we were there but was supposed to get up to 107 by later in the afternoon and is predicted to be 116 tomorrow. So, all in all, we were there during a cool spell.

Bad Water Basin in Death Valley is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. It is only 100 miles from Mt. Whitney, the highest point int the 48 contiguous states. Bad Water holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the USA of 134 degrees on July 10, 1913. This is the 2nd highest temperature ever recorded in the world. The average annual precipitation is 2.33 inches.

The salt pan on the floor of death Valley covers more than 200 square miles. It is 40 miles long and 5 miles wide. Surprisingly, the part we were allowed to walk on was quite soft. We thought that it would be hard as a rock but there is enough moisture in the ground to keep it spongy.

For as brutal as Death Valley is, it is equally beautiful.

The first known non-Native Americans to enter Death Valley did so in the winter of 1849, thinking they would save some time by taking a shortcut to the gold fields of California. They were stuck for weeks and in the process gave the Valley its name even though only one of their group died there. Several short-lived towns sprung up during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to exploit minor local bonanzas of gold. The only long-term profitable mining operation however, was borax; a mineral used to make soap. 20-mule teams were famously used to transport this ore out of the Valley. In reality, the teams were only 18 mules and 2 horses. The teams took 10 days to transport borax 165 miles to the rail head in Mojave. Borax is no longer mined in Death Valley but it is still mined in the general area as we passed by the current Borax mining operation on our way to Pahrump.
We did get a few laughs watching our fellow tourists. Some of them really take to heart the warnings about drinking plenty of water and not getting too far from their cars, etc. We saw people lugging huge water bottles and multiple backpacks - to go on trails that were about 200 yards long. And if they were to have gotten into trouble, there were lots of other people around to help them out. I guess that other people think we are goofy too, but we can't see that.

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