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Death Valley in summer

Experiencing incredible conditions with the reward of stunning landscapes

Story by Fabien Bazanegue July 6th, 2017

Coming from Grand Canyon, after more than a week into the wild through Utah and Arizona, it was time to go back to the civilization. Going West towards California, we could not escape a stop in the amazing Las Vegas.

Approaching Vegas area. Scenic view over Lake Mead

welcome to las vegas

What was the most surprising apart from the suffocating heat is the crowded streets of Las Vegas and particularly on the "strip". After days in the natural wonders of Utah and Arizona, we were not used anymore of having so many people around us.

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The first thing that came to my mind when trying to define Las Vegas was Disney World, But Disney World power 10 ! Everything is really crazy there! Strolling on the strip you can travel all around the world from New York to Egypt or from Paris to Venice.

Of course we took some time to go to the casino to spend some dollars on the cash machines but we were not lucky enough to make some cash back ;-) Anyway, that was for fun and we were here for that.

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After 2 days in the Sin City, which was more than enough, we took our car back and headed towards Death Valley. We were knowing is was going to be hot, but we were far away from imagining how extremely hot is was actually going to be...

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death valley

First, there's nothing. Only an infinite road that seems to end miles away into the mountains. You feel that you'd better not have your car breaking down cause there won't be anybody to help you.

Then, you let yourself be submerged by the beauty of the landscapes. You just drive and enjoy the incredible view.

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Dante's view

It was our first stop in Death Valley. After a dozen miles on a road that seemed to lead nowhere, we finally reached the top of a mountain to discover a breathtaking view right from the parking lot.

Despite the "Bees hazard" sign, we got off the car to enjoy the view. The temperature was already high but still quite bearable. We discovered then an incredible lunar landscape. There was barely any vegetation. Everything was dry.

Spectacular !

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View on Badwater Basin

Zabriskie Point

Getting deeper into Death Valley, we then reached Zabriskie Point, made famous by the movie of the same name.

The temp was now completely crazy (47°C !!) accentuated by the warm wind. When we got off the car it was as if we had open the oven's door !

It was now the end of the afternoon, the sun was getting low on the horizon. This was the perfect light for this kind of place.

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Zabriskie Point treasure

artist's palette

We spent the night at Furnace Creek Ranch which were not the best place where we stayed during our road trip but in Death Valley it was one of the only available (and existing) in the area.

The day after, early morning the temperature was still high we were passing from our air-conditioned room to our air-conditioned car, spending the least time as possible outside.

Heading towards Badwater, we made a first stop at Artist's Palette, an incredible mix of colorful rocks, all in the same place. Red, green, yellow, orange, white, pink and even blue. It was like a rainbow.

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Devil's golf course

Further, we got away from the main road, and took a dusty trail that led us to the well nouned Devil's Golf Course.

It was like exploring the bottom of a lake that had been emptied of its water. After all, no so surprising as it is really the bottom of a dried lake.

Beware here to your legs, especially is they are naked, if you try to go through the big sharp salt concretions. It can hurt you badly if you fall!

Enjoy the view and imagine, for a moment, this place filled with its water back.

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Back to the main road to reach our morning destination: Badwater Basin.

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BADWATER BASIN

This place is actually located at an amazing height. We were now below sea level. At minus 85 meters exactly. It is the lowest point in North America.

The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of "bad water" next to the road in a sink; the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name.

The Valley bottom can be periodically flooded with significant rainstorms that cover the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. The newly formed lake does not last long as amount of rainfall is really low and also because of the very high evaporation rate (the highest in the US). Imagine that a 4 meters deep lake can dry up in less than a year !

When the basin is flooded, some of the salt is dissolved; it is redeposited as clean crystals when the water evaporates. Also, repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into picturesque hexagonal honeycomb shapes.

A opposed to Devil's golf Course the area is perfectly flat which could make you think if it is drivable. But forget it. For preservation and protection sakes it is totally forbidden to any vehicle.

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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

It was time to leave, we had a long road still to cover before our stop for the night in the direction of one of the other wonder of California: Yosemite National Park.

On our road to Death Valley exit, we passed by Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where we took the opportunity to walk into the immaculate almost white sand dunes. Here, we really felt being in the desert. Only the camels were missing to compose a perfect desert picture.

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That was it for now with Death Valley. We really hope to be back one day to discover it during an other season (heard that Spring is terrific !).

Next stop: Mammoth Lake a very cute ski Resort up in the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains.

Footnote: All pictures taken using a Canon 6D
Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, CA, United States