My paternal grandmother adopted me in December 1965 when I was just three months short of 11. For Christmas 1968, we were going to go to Huntington Beach, California, to visit her oldest living son (my dad was the oldest son) and his family. We were going to drive. I asked if we could drive through Death Valley. The first answer was, “Yes.” The final answer was, “No, because it’s too hot and the car doesn’t have air conditioning.”
After graduating from high school in May 1973, two friends and I took a driving tour of states west of the Mississippi River. Our intent was to visit every city of at least 100,000 population, every national monument, every national park, and every national forest. We almost made it. We skipped Death Valley National Park because it was too hot and we were sleeping outside in tents.
I tried to visit Death Valley many other times but never made it, until July 30, 2018. It was everything I expected, and more, living up to being the hottest, driest, and lowest national park. It’s also an International Dark Sky Park, and I can personally attest to its darkness and the beautiful stars above.
I got to Panamint Springs, the western gateway to Death Valley, at 8:30 p.m. on July 30. Panamint Springs is an unincorporated area of Inyo County. Its population is unknown but probably is in the low double digits. My car’s temperature gauge said it was hot outside:
I had been sleeping in my car at night but at 118 effin degrees, I didn’t think that would be a good idea. There was a small hotel but it had no vacancy. However, there was a campground in back, and there were some cabins there. One was still available. $150 for the night. It had air conditioning. I was an easy sale. I got to my cabin, turned on the air conditioner, unloaded the car, and checked the outside temperature. Still 108 effin degrees.
When I woke five hours later, I took a shower. If you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” movie, you’ll understand why I thought of that movie when I saw the shower curtain:
After taking a shower, I watched the sunrise:
Afterwards, around 6:30 a.m., I started loading the car. Fortunately, the temperature had fallen. Thank goodness for overnight cooling!
As I was pulling away, I got a picture of my cute little cabin:
A drive through the campground showed that there were people who actually camped out in their tents!
Not knowing when I might find another gas station, I filled up at the only gas station in Panamint Springs…. with NO BRAND gas. Never had seen that before!
The scenery was beautiful in its own way on the drive to the Death Valley Visitor Center:
Devil’s Corn Field was quite interesting to a plant person like me. The plants are Arrowweed (Pluchea sericea), and native Americans used its straight woody shoots for their arrow shafts. Arrowweed spreads by rhizomes, and the desert winds cause the sand to accumulate at the base of the Arrowweed, causing the field to look like bundled corn stalks left to dry in a midwestern corn field.
The visitor center was named Furnace Creek Visitor Center, an appropriate name since it was 113 effin degrees at 9:15 in the morning, 190 feet below sea level.
The best of Death Valley was yet to come: Badwater Basin, Salt Flats, Devil’s Golf Course, Ashford Mill Ruins and the Old Harmony Borax Works, and lots of beautiful hot, dry, desert scenery.
Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the North America. Interestingly, Mt. Whitney, peaking at 14,505 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the lower 48 states, just 84 miles away from the lowest point.
Salt Flats—Ten to twelve thousand years ago, there was a lake here, Lake Manly, about 100 miles long and 600 feet deep. As the area turned to hot, dry desert and the water evaporated, only salts were left behind.
Devil’s Golf Course—Named after a line in the 1934 National Park Service guide to Death Valley: “Only the devil could play golf on its surface.” It is another part of Lake Manly. One can drive out to the salt flats, park the car, and walk around on lots of salt. Yet not a single margarita in sight!
Old Harmony Borax Works—The search for gold in Death Valley produced few fortunes, leaving borax, the White Gold of the Desert, as the valley’s most profitable mineral.
Harmony Borax Works was the valley’s first borax operation, operating from 1883 to 1888.
San Francisco businessman William T. Coleman built the plant in 1882 to refine the “cottonball” borax found on the nearby salt flats. The high cost of transportation made it necessary to refine the borax here rather than carry both borax and waste to the railroad, 165 miles distant across the desert.
Ashford Mill Ruins—Gold ore from the Golden Treasure Mine, five miles to the east, was processed here for shipment to a smelter.
Lots of beautiful hot, dry, desert scenery on the drive out of the park.
Beautiful hot, dry desert….