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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.


















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