We set out to explore the true Death Valley outside of Furnace Creek area late in the afternoon on the first day. We marveled at the naked Death Valley – its dry salt flats, and its colorful rock formations.
Just a short drive heading south on Badwater Road, we were at Badwater Basin. Death Valley is full of contrast. This is where the high meets low. Under the highest point of Death Valley – Telescope Peak lies Badwater Basin, the lowest point of the U.S.
An expansive white floor with salt flats covered Badwater Basin. A sign of “Sea Level” high up on the cliff of imposing Black Mountains marked where the sea level is. We would have been 282 feet below sea level had this basin was an ocean. Some of the rocks on the cliff of Black Mountains are 1.7 billion years old (www.nature.nps.gov). A pool of spring sat by the beginning of the path. The water is undrinkable because of the salts surrounding it. However, a rare species – Badwater Snails live in this “bad water.” The salt crusts near the pool were muddy, rough and in chaotic various forms. The path was smooth and soft at first and it became harder and crustier later. The sun was intense but the breezy wind felt good. There were salt crystalized under solid mud. Patches of salt also appeared on the path. Walking further down the path, salt crystals formed beautiful hexagon patterns.
The vast white sand flats extended miles away. A young backpacker wearing a set of green colored clothing and a hat walked past me. He walked fast and steady with a determined look in his eyes. I stopped at the end of the path where millions of tourists have returned. But that young man walked further on the salt flats and kept going. The size of the Badwater basin is about 5 miles wide and 7.5 miles long. I guessed he was going to cross the basin to find out more lying ahead. I picked up a hunk of salt from the path on my way back. It looked like the same as the table salt. It might taste salty but I didn’t try it. I threw it back into the salt flats where it belonged.
Leaving Badwater Basin, we went back north on Badwater Road and then took the one-way Artist’s Drive. The steep dips and downs of the road made the drive like a roller coaster ride. The road took us to the top of the alluvial fan of the Black Mountains where we appreciate its colorful face. Stripes of cream, tan, brown and pink rocks like the paints soldiers put on their faces. The white salt flats were seen in the distance. The most beautiful spot of the Artist’s Drive was the Artist’s Palette. A spectrum of color displayed on the rocks as if nature used a giant brush painting them with green, pink, purple, brown, and black. The setting sun made the mountain glow like a golden castle.
We left Artist’s Palette and continued the loop of Artist’s Drive. The setting sun lit up the edge of the road where it met the wall of rocks. That was a magical moment!