Death Valley Part II: We Are At Zabriskie Point but Where Is R2-D2… The Desert Series

Erosion of rocks created in an ancient lake bed gives Zabriskie Point its unique look.

Erosion of rocks gives Zabriskie Point its unique look.

Zabriskie Point is one of the most photographed spots in Death Valley. Tour busses stop here and disgorge thousands of passengers annually. Everyone comes armed with a camera, or at least a cell phone camera. Twenty shots or so later they are on their way, scurrying back to the bus and Death Valley’s next must-see sight. We are more leisurely in our approach, but we also take a more photos. Erosion is king here, wearing away rocks that were deposited in a lakebed some five million years ago– back before tectonic forces created Death Valley and back before the region became a desert.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley.

As in other parts of Death Valley, the rocks of Zabriskie Point are multi-hued. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Manly Beacon in Death Valley.

Manly Beacon or Point, is another popular view from Zabriskie Point. Justifiably so.

Peggy and I were at Zabriskie Point in the late afternoon. The rocks above Manly Beacon seemed to take on an inner glow.

Peggy and I were at Zabriskie Point in the late afternoon. The rocks above Manly Beacon seemed to take on an inner glow.

The volcanic caprock provides an interesting contrast. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The volcanic caprock provides an interesting contrast. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A three-mile trail leads down to the Valley floor from Zabriskie Point and passes through Golden Canyon on the way. For fans of Star Wars IV, segments of the movie were filmed in Golden Canyon. The diminutive, eye glowing Jawas captured R2-D2 and C-3PO there.  So you can think of Death Valley as Tatooine, the home planet of Luke Skywalker. (Tunisia was also used for scenes on Tatooine.)

Golden Canyon looking out toward Death Valley

Golden Canyon looking out toward Death Valley. This photo and the one below were taken from an earlier trip. R2-D2 and C-3PO were captured in the canyon by the Jawas.

Golden Canyon in Death Valley

Golden Canyon looking up toward Zabriskie Point. I am on the trail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Here’s some Star Wars trivia I picked up when doing research for this blog that you can use to wow your friends: sounds made by dogs, bears, lions, tigers and walruses were combined to create Chewbacca’s voice.

The Twenty Mule Team Canyon that I blogged about in my last post starts a mile or so above Zabriskie Point. A few miles farther, a road jogs off to the right that leads to Dante’s View, which towers some 5000 feet above the valley floor. The last part of the road is steep and narrow but the view is worth it.

Looking down into Death Valley from Dante's View.

Looking down into Death Valley from Dante’s View.

Dante's View provides a spectacular view of Death Valley.

Another perspective.

Given the higher elevation at Dante's View, Spring Flowers were still blooming.

Given the higher elevation at Dante’s View, spring flowers were still blooming.

Indian Paintbrush at Dante's View in Death Valley National Park.

This is an Indian Paintbrush.

I took this photo to capture the very impressive alluvial fan spreading out on the Death Valley floor far below Dante's View. Debris coming down off the mountain had built this fan up over thousands of year.

I took this final photo from Dante’s View to capture the very impressive alluvial fan spreading out on the Death Valley floor far below. Debris coming down off the mountain had built this fan up over thousands of year.

NEXT BLOG: Traveling into the Panamint Range of Death Valley: wild flowers, huge charcoal kilns, and one very large, irritated rattlesnake.

28 thoughts on “Death Valley Part II: We Are At Zabriskie Point but Where Is R2-D2… The Desert Series

  1. Each photo is gorgeous. I especially love the texture (almost palpable) you managed to give to the rocks at Zabriskie Point. The flowers in the desert are really a gift.
    Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of this unusual scenery.

    • You are quite welcome, Evelyne. And I appreciate your comment on texture. It varies with each rock, just like the colors and shapes– all coming together to create the natural beauty of Death Valley. Thanks. –Curt

  2. Oh the view from Dante’s Peak! Swoon.
    Great photos as usual. I especially love the one of the paintbrush giving an entirely different view of it. Lovely.
    Of course I remember Zabriskie Point, as much for the movie Blowup as for visiting there forty years ago.

    • I’m betting you are talking about the movie, Zabriskie Point. Same director and same edge to the movie. And yes, things were blown up. I am reminded somewhat of the SLA, the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst. I ran into them once up in the Sierra with Patty Hearst who swooned over how much she loved shooting automatic weapons. I didn’t let on I had a clew about who they were and got the heck out of there. –Curt

      • Yes, of course I mean Zabriskie Point (head palm). Interesting encounter. Like I said – you’ve led an interesting life – cat afterbirth and Patty Hearst and the SLA. I rest my case 🙂

  3. Another round of beautiful photos Curt. For a place that gets so little rain, those erosion features are amazing, and make great photo subjects. And great Star Wars trivia. It got me to thinking, and I wondered how that terrifying T rex noise was made in Jurassic Park. Here’s a quote from the sound designer who did it: “As for that bone-shivering, theater-shaking T. rex roar: “The key element of the T. rex roar is not a full-grown elephant but a baby elephant,” said Rydstrom. “So once again, a small animal making a small sound slowed down a little bit has more interest to us than what a big animal might do.” Just thought you’d want to know. ~James

    • The rain tends to come all at once when it comes, which is why I start to look for high ground and stay out of canyons. Without any plant cover there is nothing to slow down the erosion, and, as you know being a geologist, different rocks erode at different speeds, which creates much of the beauty of the southwest. I found the cap rock view very intriguing.

      How they make noises for movies is fascinating, huh. Darth Vader, I read, did his breathing through a scuba mask. There are people who spend their whole careers figuring these things out. I once did a “back stage” tour of one of the Hollywood studios and they had a man demonstrate how some of the more common noises are made. Some fun. –Curt

  4. The combination of colors and textures is just stunning. Was Dante’s Peak given its name as a tribute to the author of “The Divine Comedy”? I went looking, and found that, before there was a ski resort, there was Purgatory Creek and Purgatory Flats in Colorado. It seems like a nice combination of difficult landscape and literate explorers was taking place out there.

    The alluvial fan is interesting, too. First I thought of the mouth of the Mississippi, and then I remembered that, when conditions are right, exactly the same sort of fanning take place at the Galveston jetties, when muddy flood waters spread out into the Gulf.

    More related to your previous post but still funny… Have you seen the side-by-side comparision of a certain Commissioner and ET? As my favorites would say, “The truth is out there!”

    • I have no doubt that the Inferno inspired the name for Dante’s View. On a really hot day, you might think you were looking into hell. But for us, Death Valley just showed her beautiful side.

      And your observation about Deltas fits right in. There is a lot of similarity although one is made of mud and the other rocks.

      Finally, I looked at the ET comparison. Funny indeed. 🙂 Anybody who is reading this comment should check it out. –Curt

  5. Each of our experiences in Death Valley are unique, varies according to sunlight, angles, weather, rains, time of year, time of day….well, you get it. Repeat visits are a must for this gem of a national park!

  6. My husband was in Death Valley years ago with our youngest daughter. I don’t think they ever got out of the air-conditioned car, which would explain why your pictures are so much nicer than his:)

    • Pretty funny. 🙂 But it does depend on when you are there. It was in the balmy 80s and lower 90s for us. At 120˚ F I would probably be in my air-conditioned vehicle as well! –Curt

    • Certainly one of the more extraordinary places on Earth, Lynne. As for lonely, that rarely enters my mind when I am out wandering around in the wilderness. There is too much to see and experience. 🙂 –Curt

    • Dante was definitely from the literary crowd. 20 mule team, well it was a 20 mule team. (grin) And Manly was an early Death Valley explorer, I believe. Maybe the beacon came from the fact that it is a prominent landmark… still, it’s poetic. Curt

  7. Succulent blooms are sometimes the most dazzling, I feel, and your photo shows that. You and Peggy are quite the adventurers…and if you weren’t we’d never see nor read about these fascinatingly scorching sites… A Star Wars fan, eh? Well, we can see you have Princess Leia – unchained, that is.

  8. Hi,
    > I work as a writer for Skyscanner (, a
    > leading global travel search site. I am creating a content
    > piece on the best places to visit if you are a Star Wars fan
    > and came across your blog that will be most helpful
    > for our readers –
    > Will you be okay if we use these in our stories? The story
    > will appear on our page here: Do
    > let me know if you have any reservations, and I will be
    > happy to not include the information.
    > It will be most helpful if you could respond by 23rd
    > December.
    > Regards,
    > Atipriya Kaur

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