This is the first post in a series detailing our itinerary for the upcoming trip through the California desert. For details, and to donate, check out our Kickstarter page.
On day one, the hope is that we’ll be touching down in Las Vegas at around 2PM, picking up the rental car and heading northwest out of town. We’ve chosen a particular entrance to Death Valley that is supposed to include a stunning view and a dramatic drop in elevation.
The destination for the first day’s travel is Furnace Creek, California. Furnace Creek is a Census Designated Place in Death Valley with a population as of the 2010 Census of 24. It also holds the dubious distinction of having been home to the highest temperature ever recorded… 134 degrees. I checked the weather there last night at midnight; the temperature was 99 degrees.
As recently as June of this year, the temperatures in this area were so hot that one could feel the heat of the pavement through their sneakers, and walking barefoot could cause burns on the soles of the feet. Tourists at the headquarters of Death Valley National Park (also located in Furnace Creek, CA) were watching eggs cook on the sidewalk.
It is hot, is what I’m trying to say.
It will be one of the two hottest parts of the trip, the other being the goal of the trip… the Salton Sea. I’m hoping that after spending the first day at Furnace Creek, maybe the other legs of the trip won’t seem quite so uncomfortable by comparison.
Furnace Creek is maintained by the same springs that used to sustain the Timbisha indians. Unfortunately, the natural oasis that the springs create has dwindled recently due to the water being diverted to serve the town and nearby reservation.
Furnace Creek is also home to several maintained campgrounds, and the hope is that we’ll get there in time to set up camp before dark. Once the sun goes down and the air starts to cool a bit, we may head out to do a little nocturnal photography. I’m afraid that the weather may make daytime hikes too difficult, but I anticipate that the Devil’s Golf Course will look at least as charming at night as it does during the day; perhaps more so… it will be hard to beat the stark shadows thrown by jagged halite crystals on the salt-pan floor, lit by the waning moon.
Given enough time, we may head west to Mosaic Canyon. Mosaic is a narrow, meandering canyon featuring contorted, banded rocks laid down during the late Precambrian era. It was carved by the flow of water draining from the mountains to the west, and still experiences flash flooding when the rain falls. I think this area would be particularly stunning at sunrise, with the long, clear light striking the hills of the accompanying alluvial deposits and filtering down into the narrow canyon.
We will visit Badwater Basin on our way south through the valley. Badwater is a part of the salt pan that covers the valley floor, and is the lowest point in North America. Badwater Basin is home to a seasonal lake, fed by sparse rainfall and a spring in the valley floor; but even with the spring, the valley’s 1.9 inches of annual rainfall cannot overcome the 150 inch annual evaporation rate, and the lake will almost certainly be dry by the time we reach it. The dried crust of the soil of the valley is fractured and pushed apart into a crazed, roughly hexagonal pattern. This, along with the basin’s complete barrenness and flatness, contributes to a landscape that feels strange and unearthly.
After that, it will be time to continue south; on to the Mojave National Preserve and another day closer to the Salton Sea.