Speaking of Death Valley, an image of a badland of extremes came to my mind. I wouldn’t want to go to Death Valley in the summer because of the extreme heat. But it was getting cold in the northern Sierras. So we left Carson City and took our favorite highway 395 going south. Our destination is – Death Valley! We camped at Mammoth Lakes and Lone Pine on the way. The high wind at Lone Pine last night kept me awake. We didn’t unhitch the trailer at Lone Pine, and we took off early in the morning heading to Death Valley, a desert that is the hottest, driest, and lowest in the world.
Highway 190 took us past Owens Dry Lake, where sand storms were kicked up last night. The road took us into Inyo Mountains and we landed in a land with sparse vegetation. Strange looking Joshua trees dotted the landscape. A sign of Death Valley National Park indicated that we entered the park. Shortly we arrived at Father Crowley Vista. A canyon cut through the rainbow colored cliffs and led my eyes to a slice of white desert at the base of the Panamint Mountains. The rainbow colored rocks are layer of lava rocks that were oxidized by sediments in water.
After driving down the steep and sharp turn mountain road, we landed on Panamint Valley. We continued crossing Panamint Valley, up Panamint Range and then down hill to Death Valley. The high mountain ranges – Sierra Nevada, Inyo Mountains, and Panamint Range in the west block moisture from the ocean, leaving Death Valley little precipitations. It was so nice to see a little village – Stovepipe Wells village after miles after miles of barren lands. A ranger station, a general store and a gas station made me feel connected to the civilization. We saw noticeable alluvial fans at the foot of the Tucki Mountain. People were hiking on sizable sand dunes. Temperature was close to 90°F outside. We escaped the cold weather and came to the summer heat. Welcome to Death Valley!
When highway 190 turned towards south, an oasis with palm trees jumped into our vision in the distance. Incredible! Another 30-minute drive we were at Furnace Creek Campground. We quickly found us a home here. Grey green colored Tamarix trees grow around the campground. We toured around the town of Furnace Creek and were surprised to see a lush green golf course. I wonder where they got water in this thirsty desert.
From the website of US Geological Survey National Park Service (www.nature.nps.gov), I learned that Death Valley has less than 2 inches of rainfall each year, but this area was a natural oasis with marshes and wetland thanks to rare springs. In the early 1900s, this precious water resource was harnessed and this area was developed for businesses such as Furnace Creek Ranch Resort. The stately resort is currently under renovation. I appreciate the supply of water for the campground that made it possible for us to stay in this valley of death. But I feel that the golf course is a little bit out of place in this dry land. More water is being withdrawn from the aquifer than it is being replenished. It is hard to balance the needs of human and the desert ecosystem.