Even when wildflowers are not plentiful, Death Valley still offers an array of sights and hikes for the desert wanderer. Of course, stocking up on water is essential, though you can also purchase a bag of ice and other overpriced thirst-quenchers from the couple of general stores within the park.
Jay and I spent the night by Stovepipe Wells, where the amenities make for a more comfortable camping experience: flush toilets, general store, gas station, and shower rentals from the adjacent lodge. Our first hike the following morning was at Mosaic Canyon, which is closest to Stovepipe Wells. We could see dust clouds kicked up by cars driving down the two mile stretch of gravel. It is no wonder that this particular section of Death Valley is such a geological treasure. Millions of years of water carved the marble and limestone walls, creating some of the embedded rock fragments that give the canyon its name. We followed the riverbed nearly two more miles before reaching a towering dry fall.
50 minutes later and yet another dirt road south on Route 190, we arrived at Natural Bridge Canyon. Since we took Jay’s Chevy Volt, our expeditions were limited to lower-car-height-friendly roads (we’ll definitely have to take a higher clearance vehicle next time!). The bridge is a short walk from the parking lot. Along the way, you can observe where other waterfalls dropped into the basin below and the imprints of slicked moss on what must have been a stark contrast from the desert it is today.
When I was in elementary school, I went to Death Valley for the first time with a couple of my parents’ friends. In addition to witnessing the immense expanse of stars in the sky, I remember coming to a giant salt flat, collecting a small piece, and tasting it. That is Badwater Basin. Once you walk past the soft, trodden down part of the road, there is a significant difference in each foot step. It feels hard, salt crunching below like snow, with ridges marking the basin like tile.
Again, unique geological features are not scarce in Death Valley, and Zabriskie Point, with its collection of lake sediments and volcanic deposits, is a prominent stop. We arrived just after sunset but still enjoyed a beautiful view with the remaining light.
The next morning, try as we might, we did not make it to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes before sunrise. Instead, we watched it from our car and set out about an hour later. I envisioned epic photos for this location, and so we prepared outfits for the occasion. The trek to the middle of the dunes looks a lot shorter than expected, but it was fun to bumble about until we found an acceptable point.
With all the wonderful images we managed to get sans tripod, there are some that capture the countless failed takes and genuinely candid but cute moments. It is here that I end this post, as a nod to learning flexibility, maximizing experiences with fewer resources, and Tatooine.