Skip to main content

2018 Mojave Road Trip Part 3; Death Valley National Park

After reaching Death Valley Junction on California State Route 127 I took a turn west on CA 190 towards Death Valley National Park.






Death Valley is a large sink in the northern extent of the Mojave Desert and is part of the Great Basin Drainage area.  Death Valley is situated between the Panamint, Amargosa, Sylvania, and Owlshead Mountains over an area of approximately 3,000 square miles.  Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the North America at -282 feet below sea level which is in stark contrast the 11,043 foot Telescope peak to the west in the Panamint Range.  Death Valley has the highest recorded temperature in the world at 134F which was recorded in Furnace Creek in 1913.

Death Valley essentially is a giant dry lake which has been called "Lake Manly" by geologists.   Lake Manly once had waters as high as 290 feet above sea level which was primarily fed by the Amargosa River.  Lake Manly disappeared approximately 10,000 years ago along with many large lakes that once made up much of the Mojave and Great Basin Deserts.

Death Valley was known to the Shoshone Tribes of the Mojave Desert but was discovered by modern Californian settlers during the 1849 Gold Rush.  Apparently the settlers were attempting to avoid Donner Pass after ill fated trip of the Donner Party Expedition which became trapped in Donner Pass in the winter of 1846 to 1847.  My understanding is that the expedition that located Death Valley was attempting to finding a shortcut to Walker Pass.  Although the expedition was ultimately successful in creating a new way to Walker Pass it was extremely hazardous to cross given the steep terrain and hot desert weather. 

As I mentioned in Part 2 the Borax Mining history of Death Valley which began in the 1880s and lasted until the 1930s.  In 1933 Death Valley was declared a National Monument which was elevated to National Park status in 1994.  Legislative Route 127 which later became CA 190 and CA 127 was adopted through Death Valley in 1933 as well which is likely why CA 190 is a rare example of a state maintained highway in a National Park.

Given that I was with some first time visitors to Death Valley National Park the first stop was at Zabriskie Point.  Zabriskie Point overlooks Death Valley from the Amargosa Range is filled with multi-colored sediments in the badlands below.  My understanding is that the sediments are from a larger lake called "Furnace Creek Lake" which existed millions of year before Death Valley existed.





I stopped at Furnace Creek to renew my National Parks Pass.  Furnace Creek is -190 feet below sea level and is the location for Park Service housing.  It was an extremely nice morning at 64F, I don't believe it jumped over 70F until mid-day.  Either way it was a welcome change of weather compared to the dense Tule Fog of San Joaquin Valley.


Furnace Creek is the location of the only services for over 50 miles in all directions.  The $4 plus gasoline may seem pricey but considering how remote the station it is I'm sure plenty of people are willing to pay the listed price.  The gas station also does minor automotive repairs which I'm sure is actually a frequent occurrence on CA 190 and the surrounding off-road trails.




There isn't any services for 57 miles on eastbound CA 190.  The closest gas that I'm aware of is located in Pahrump in Nevada.





CA 190 and most of Death Valley National Park have elevation markers indicating how far the terrain is below sea level.





The next major attraction was Badwater Basin which as previously mentioned is -282 feet below sea level.  Badwater Basin can be reached via Badwater Road south from Furnace Creek.  High above Badwater Road in the Amargosa Range is a sign 282 feet above indicating where sea level is located.



Badwater Basin is the location of a small spring which has a high salinity, hence the name "Badwater."  There is a small boardwalk over the actual spring and a compressed salt path out onto the flats facing west towards the Panamint Range.  Snow can be seen high above Badwater Basin on Telescope Peak in the Panamints.









My next destination was on Artist's Drive north of Badwater Basin.  Artist's Drive is a one-way road which ascends into the Amargosa Range and has several small trails overlooking the multi-colored rocks.  Artist's Drive is actually a fun road to drive with lots of nice scenic views of the colored rocks and Death Valley below.  The road is extremely narrow in places and has several dips exceeding 20% grades. 
























The last hike of the day as in Golden Canyon about two miles south of CA 190.  The trails of Golden Canyon lead up to Zabriske Point and a couple overlooks.  Golden Canyon is a maze of desert washes that seemingly ascend to random places.  I did find evidence of an asphalt road that was once about a quarter mile into Golden Canyon but appears to have been washed out.  At Red Cathedral we turned around and head out of Death Valley back to CA 127 to enter Nevada.


















Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The original alignment of California State Route 1 in San Francisco

In 2019 the Gribblenation Blog Series covered the history of the Hyde Street Pier and the original surface alignment of US Route 101 in San Francisco.  Given the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic in May of 1937 coupled with the fact that the Sign State Routes had been announced in August of 1934 there were still some open questions regarding the original highway alignments in San Francisco.  Namely the question of this blog is; where was California State Route 1 prior to the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge?  Thanks the to the discovery of a 1936 Shell Highway Map of San Francisco and the California Highways & Public Works the answer can be conveyed clearly.     Part 1; the history of early California State Route 1 in San Francisco The genesis point for California State Route 1 ("CA 1") in San Francisco dates to 1933.  1933 was significant due to the State Legislature allowing the Division of Highways to assume maintenance of highways in Cities for the first time. 

Former California State Route 24 through the Kennedy Tunnel and Old Tunnel Road

 Near the eastern City Limit of Oakland high in the Berkeley Hills one can be find the ruins of the Kennedy Tunnel at the intersection of Old Tunnel Road and Skyline Boulevard.  The Kennedy Tunnel opened in 1903 and was the first semi-modern automotive corridor which crossed the Alameda County-Contra Costa County Line.  The Kennedy Tunnel even saw service briefly as part of California State Route 24 before the first two bores of the Caldecott Tunnel opened in 1937.   Part 1; the history of the Kennedy Tunnel The genesis point for California State Route 24 ("CA 24") being extended into the San Francisco Bay Area begins a couple years before the Sign State Routes were announced when Legislative Route Number 75 ("LRN 75") was added by 1931 Legislative Chapter 82.  According to cahighways.org the original definition of LRN 75 was as simply "Walnut Creek to Oakland."  The instigator for the adoption of LRN 75 was construct a replacement route for the Ken

Santa Clara County Route G8 and the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine

Santa Clara County Route G8 is a 29.38 mile County Sign Route which is part of the San Francisco Bay Area transportation corridor.  Santa Clara County Route G8 begins at California State Route 152 near the outskirts of Gilroy and terminates at former US Route 101 at 1st Street/Monterey Road near downtown San Jose.  Santa Clara County Route G8 incorporates the notable Almaden Expressway and is historically tied to the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine.   (Santa Clara County Route G8 map image courtesy CAhighways.org) Part 1; the history of Santa Clara County Route G8, the Almaden Road corridor and New Almaden Mine The present corridor of Santa Clara County Route G8 ("G8") began to take shape with the emergence of the Almaden Expressway.  According to the October 1960 California Highways & Public Works Unit 1 of the Almaden Expressway opened in November of 1959 between Alma Avenue near downtown San Jose south to the Guadalupe River as part of a Federal Highway Aid Secondary pro