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A Stark Beauty – Death Valley

Colorful Mudstones at Zabriskie Point

After spending some time in Death Valley, it started to grow on me. I found it a stark beauty in the colors and shapes of rock formations, in its contrast of extremes. We visited Zabriskie Point the other day and liked it. Yesterday when we were at Furnace Creek Ranch, a framed photo caught my attention. It featured photographers lined up at Zabriskie Point at sunrise taking photos. We went back to Zabriskie Point again early this morning. The second visit made me appreciate this place even more with a better understanding of its geology and history.

Tiger Stripes at Zabriskie Point

Topography at Zabriskie Point

The amazing rock formations at Zabriskie Point was finely sculpted by nature. Deep gullies carved the bare mudstones into a maze. It could be described as naked masculine muscles, as tiger stripes, or as a swirled cream with chocolate on top. Zabriskie Point was the bottom of a prehistoric lake. Deposited silt, clay and sediments formed a mudstone foundation – Furnace Creek Formation. Earthquakes lifted and titled the formation. Periodic rainstorms shaped the soft mudstones into this magnificent landscape with lots of texture and color. Clay in the mudstone makes mudstones impermeable. Therefore, no vegetation grows on these bone dry rock formations. The dark cap of the ridges is lava from volcanic eruption of Black Mountains.

Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral at Zabriskie Point

The prominent Manly Beacon is a brown striped tilted and folded rock formation. It was named after William Lewis Manly who rescued the ill-fated Bennett-Arcan party who was trapped in Death Valley. Red Cathedral sits to the right of Manly Beacon. The layers of brown color at its lower portion resembled a lava rock cake. Even the tinted low and round mounds by the road looked like ice cream to me. Boy! I guess I was thirsty.

Dessert

 

Overlooking Badwater Basin from Dante’s View

 

The vista from Dante’s View was spectacular. The last ¼ mile was a 15% steep switchback up Black Mountains. In a clear day, you could see as far as Mount Williamson 100 miles away. The vast white salt flats shone way down there on Badwater Basin. Across the valley is Panamint Range. Telescope Peak has one of the greatest vertical rises from its base with a rise of 11,331 feet above Badwater Basin. Walking on the ridge of Black Mountains, I walked to the edge of the dark rocks. Those rocks were right above the sheer cliff. I perched myself between the rocks and poke my head out looking down to the valley. Gee! it was a steep cliff with over 5,000 feet. From the binoculars, I could see people were walking on the path on salt flats. I thought I have walked half way across the basin the other day, but from this vantage point I saw that path was so short. I realized that I only scratched the surface of Badwater Basin.

Dante’s View at Black Mountains

Vista From Dante’s View

Mesquite Flat Dunes

We went to Mesquite Flat Dunes the other day. It was about 5 p.m. and it started to get cloudy. We wanted to get to the sand dunes at sunset. But it seemed the sun was behind the clouds and going down fast. Our truck was chasing the sun on highway 190 towards Stonepipe Wells. It was 5:47 p.m. when we got there. There were only 15 minutes left before the sun set. I ran on the sand and tried to get closer to the beautiful sand dunes out there. But I was still far away from the golden sand dunes with elegant ridges. The brilliant sunset lit up the sky. I walked back to the truck with my shoes filled with sand.

Sunset at Death Valley

The one way Twenty Mule Team Canyon drive was a historical trail. Pacific Coast Borax Company used 20 mules to carry borax out of Death Valley. The dirt road cuts through boring rough mudstones. It was an alien land with few highlights. However, the road became winding and ended with a steep up and down. Two eroded odd looking spires by the road looked like aliens watching us.

A Stream and Rock Formations

Tilted Rock Formations

Golden Rock Formations

What made me most excited was the tiny stream we found north of Zabriskie Point. The colored tilted rock formations by the road attracted us. We walked towards them. A gleaming happy little stream of water flowing under the low green bushes jumped into my view. I was thrilled! “I started to love this place!” I told Stephen. There were dry and dead looking desert holly dotted here and there. Different types of stones covered the dry soil. It looked like a flash flood area.

A Wall of Green Rock Formations

Green Rock Tower at the Entrance of A Canyon

As we got closer to Furnace Creek Resort, a wall of green and blue colored rock formations by the road made us pulled over the truck. Later I learned that the beautiful green and blue color come from chlorites. I walked towards the wall of rocks on the rough stones. A small canyon appeared with a tiny stream running through it. The stream wand its way along the rock formations.

The mug I bought from Visitor Center is printed with a picture of vibrant colored rock formations. Today I took a close look at it. Guess what? It is the scene of Zabriskie Point with Manly Beacon in the foreground and Panamint Mountains in the distance, as well as the salt flats. No wonder I was drawn to Zabriskie Point. It was love at first sight.

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