Our tour has introduced us to some of California’s extremes. After the lush green landscapes and grey granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park, we headed to Death Valley National Park. It is the largest national park in the lower 48 states, as well as the lowest, driest and hottest in all of the USA.
In fact, on the afternoon of 10 July 1913, the US Weather Bureau recorded a high temperature of 134 °F (56.7 °C) at Greenland Ranch (now appropriately named Furnace Creek) in Death Valley. This temperature stands as the highest ambient air temperature ever recorded at the surface of the Earth.
Instead of Furnace Creek, we headed to a different record maker—Badwater Basin. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the second-lowest depression in the Western Hemisphere (behind Laguna del Carbón in Argentina, which sits 62 feet lower). Interestingly, Mount Whitney is only 85 miles to the west of Badwater, and rises to 14,505 feet.
We parked at Badwater for two main reasons—to let the group venture out onto the salt flats leading from the small spring-fed pool of water that’s so bad it’s undrinkable, and to let Fiona have a run.
Fiona is one of four Australians on the tour and a passionate marathon runner. She was keen to sprint 4–5 kilometres across the salt. I can’t remember how hot is was that day, but I’d have to be out of my mind to want to run even 40–50 feet on the salt flats.
I got a pic of her returning. She limited her run to 4 kilometres, so she had enough time to take pics and a few swigs of water. Fiona said no one was walking on the salt beyond 1 or 2 kilometres from the start, and she found the texture of the flats changed quite a bit as she ran.
Other things change the texture of the landscape. Every now and then, major rainstorms flood the valley, covering the salt with a thin sheet of standing water. Any newly formed lakes evaporate very quickly. In fact, Death Valley’s evaporation rate is so high that a 12-foot-deep lake could dry up within a single year.
The pictures below show the drive from Yosemite to Death Valley and then beyond. I think the terrain is stunning and oh-so colourful.