The Hottest, the Driest, the Lowest… Death Valley: Featuring Zabriskie Point

Today’s post marks the beginning of Peggy’s and my journey around North America. We will be sharing our insights into what it’s like to live full time on the road plus our adventures along the way. A special focus of the blog will be visiting some of the most spectacular wildlands remaining on our continent. Death Valley is up first, starting with an overview and featuring Zabriskie Point.

Peggy and I were greeted with this sign when we stopped at Death Valley National Park Visitor at Furnace Creek on our recent visit. As noted, Death Valley is a land of superlatives. The word I use is extremes. I reserve superlatives for the scenery. It’s why we have returned to Death Valley over and over again. 

Photo by Peggy Mekemson

I doubt that the Death Valley people included the price of gas as either an extreme or superlative, but we found it amusing. And we weren’t the only people taking photos of the sign. We made sure that we filled our tank in Bodie, a small Nevada town just outside of the park. Adding serious injury to insult, the price of a six pack of beer was $20 at the Furnace Creek store! Now that’s something worth whining about. 

But let’s get back to the hottest, driest, and lowest. By hottest, they mean the hottest place on earth. It holds the world record at 134° F (57° C). Death Valley is not a place you want to visit in the summer if you can help it. Here’s the bad news. It’s getting hotter. We can thank global warming. The following chart sums it up.

The impact of global warming can be seen clearly on the National Park graph that shows average summer temperatures.

The normal definition for a desert is a place that gets under ten inches of rain a year and has an evaporation rate that exceeds its rainfall. Death Valley averages under two inches and has an evaporation rate that is 75 times its rainfall.  Sit in the shade doing nothing for a day and you can lose up to two gallons of water. The Valley holds the record for being the driest place in the United Sates. There is a reason why the Park Service always warns people to carry and drink lots of water when they are visiting. 

And finally, the lowest. At its lowest point, Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level, which just happens to be the lowest spot in North America. On an earlier trip, Bone was proud to pose on the Bad Water Basin Sign announcing the low point. 

Bone was feeling a little low that day…

I’m going to add another extreme. Wind. Death Valley doesn’t hold any records here as far as I know, but when I bicycled across the Valley on my 10,000 mile solo trip around North America, I remember being out of the saddle in low gear, and working my tail off— pedaling downhill. When I got back to camp, I discovered my tent had been blown a half mile away and was totally trashed. This time the wind was blowing so hard Peggy couldn’t get her door open on our truck! It took all my strength to force mine. Back at camp, I took a photo of “Cousin It.’

The wind gave Peggy a new hairdo. We decided to call her ‘do’ the Cousin It look. It’s the latest fashion in Death Valley.

As I noted earlier, Peggy and I have returned to Death Valley many times, always in the fall, winter or spring. Each time we try to include something we haven’t done before. This time it was going in search of the rare and endangered, but not so elusive pup fish, and hiking up Mosaic Canyon. We also returned to some of our favorites: 20 Mule Canyon, Zabriskie Point, and the Artist’s Palette. Peggy and I were busy with our cameras the whole time. I’ll let our photos speak to the beauty of the park. 

I’ll start with Zabriskie Point, a quick 15 minute drive away from Furnace Creek and the Park Visitor Center. Named after Christian Zabriskie, an early manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, it is probably the most photographed site in Death Valley. For good reason. It was once the site of an ancient lake where various sediments sank to the lake bed, giving the area its rich colors today. Early ancestors of both modern day horses and camels left their tracks along the shorelines. Tectonic plates moving beneath the valley lifted the mountains and dropped the valley, giving rise to the erosion which has done such an impressive job of carving out the ‘badlands’ shown in the photos below.

This photo captures the rich colors of Zabriskie Point. You are looking out on the Valley floor. The Panamint Range forms the background. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A popular photograph of the ‘badlands” at Zabriskie Point. The peak on the left is known as Manley Beacon. The cliff behind it is known as Red Castle.
This provides a close up of Manley Beacon. Manley is the person who rescued the prospectors who were crossing the desert in hope of finding gold in California in 1849. They were lucky. It was the miners who gave the valley its name, Death Valley.
I caught this picture of Red Castle at Zabriskie Point. Had we been there at sunset it would have been much more reddish.
One of many of the geological features of Death Valley are volcanoes and lava flows. The black lava here was part of a lava flow. Being a harder rock it provided a cap to the eroded rock below. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This provides a broader perspective.
This picture is particularly good at showing the various terrains, textures, and colors at Zabriskie Point. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I ‘ll conclude with one of my favorite views at Zabriskie Point.

NEXT POST: We will visit Artist’s Palette at Death Valley and then go in search of the rare pup fish at Salt Creek.

44 thoughts on “The Hottest, the Driest, the Lowest… Death Valley: Featuring Zabriskie Point

  1. Believe me, I grinned at that photo of windblown Peggy! We’ve had one of the windiest springs I can remember, with speeds regularly 25 mph with gusts to 40 and 50. Granted, that’s less than what you experienced, but trying to photograph anything in that wind can be problematic. Did you have to contend with blowing sand or dirt in those winds? I chose not to visit the beach last weekend because of the blowing sand and salt. I could have coped, but I feared for my camera.

    Whenever I read ‘Zabriskie Point’ I think first of the film; parts of it were filmed on location there.

    • It’s the gusts that get you, Linda.I know what you mean about the beach. Sand blown at 50 miles and hour can sting!
      There was a dust storm out on the Valley floor. Luckily it didn’t reach us. I’ve weathered a number of them at Burning Man. Dust devils are a much more frequent phenomena out here. Some can grow to magnificent heights.
      Typical of Google, the movie comes up before the natural location. Did you watch it in you ‘hippie’ era? Grin. –Curt

    • She laughs every time she sees it, AC. 🙂 We were about as late in the season as you want to be there before it starts getting seriously hot! The Park closed our campground for the season four days after we got there. –Curt

  2. The hardest part is always selecting a few photos from our many…..all unique, interesting, and beautiful!❤️

  3. It is hard to take a bad photo in Death Valley, so unique, colorful, and intriguing! Curt’s challenge is always to select only a few for his blogs. We always do a slide show of all of them at the end of each visit. Such a treat…

  4. Unlike you, Curt, we have only been there once, in early March 2016. But we did find something few other than seasoned travelers like yourself would expect, flowers! We happened to be there for what they told us was one of the best blooming year in a long time – which unfortunately only lasts a couple weeks.

    • I think we have only been there during one bloom ourselves, Ray. It was impressive. You were lucky to see it. Heading up into the mountains that are also a part of the Park will provide great flower shows later in the season. Plus cooler temperatures. 🙂 Thanks for your comment on blooms. I did find one flower in Mosaic Canyon that I will feature when I do my section on the canyon. –Curt

  5. I felt hot and thirsty just reading this post (though that might be because I just came home from my morning walk in Arizona)…
    I was interested in the stat about highest temperature recorded on earth (having lived in the Middle East desert lands for a while.) Apparently the Furnace Creek temp was recorded in 1913 but surpassed in El Azazia, Libya, in 1922 with 58C – (136.4F). (NASA) Now that satellite temperature data is available from a broader range of sites, and land surface temperatures can be recorded rather than air temperatures, the hottest places on earth are in the Lut Desert in Iran, the badlands of Australia, and Flaming Mountain in China… not that bragging rights matter much. Hot is hot!

  6. So beautiful as well as being hot, dry, and low, Kirt. And windy! I don’t have Death Valley on my to-do list, since I’m not a fan of hot and dry, but maybe someday. Your photos are certainly tempting!

    • Thanks, Cindy. We’ve now added a week at Zion and are in the middle of a week at Bryce. We’ve been to all of these parks but never tire of them.Incredible. We could do with out the crowds. 🙂 We are focusing on the less visited places as well to give ourselves a break!

  7. The photos remind me of how much I love Death Valley. I can’t really explain why it appeals to me so much. I love the hot and dry – not so much the wind. I camped out there in Death Valley once and it was magical. I like that you try to do something different each time you go. That gas sign was funny and I’ll guess that’s the highest priced gas in the U.S. It’s nice to see you two out and about in your new life. ❤

    • Did the coyotes sing for you, Crystal? Yes, Death Valley is truly a magical place. There is the beauty, the wildlife, the geology, the extremes and something else undefinable. The spirit?

    • Actually, Dave it looks a lot like Bone’s wife, Bonette.. He found her hanging out in a Florida swamp and it was love at first sight. They were married at Burning Man. Bone says, thanks for sharing.

    • Sometimes it seems like the world is G. I’ve changed our itinerary way from New Mexico because they have been suffering fro mass I’ve fires as well. I’m thinking we will be traveling down your way next winter. 🙂

  8. That is one gusty wind and the heat sounds brutal but you 12 are seasoned.
    I paid 80 bucks for gas the other day but no complaints I’m driving!

    love the pictures too and i would skip the tent flying and stick to the van.
    💖 you are amazing!

    • At least we are ‘weathered’ Cindy. 🙂 And have the wrinkles to prove it! Actually, with our new trailer, life is quite civilized. The seats can even be switched to heating or vibrating. Thanks, and you are a sweetheart. –Curt

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