It was 115 degrees at the Death Valley National Park Visitor Center when we arrived yesterday at 4 pm. I cannot comprehend this temperature but we’re in it.
Death Valley is a park of superlatives. It’s had the highest recorded temperature in the world; 134 degrees was the record. It also has the lowest altitude in the Western Hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level at Badwater, called that because the water, so precious here, is salty.
The park is huge and encompasses mountains but the attractions most want to see at low altitude. We headed to Zabriskie Point (picture on right) at about 6:30 am but the sun was already up and shining. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it was the title of a movie in 1970. You climb up to a viewpoint, to a vista of fanciful rocks.
The desert is full of colors and textures. Artist’s Palette is a one-way drive, which shows off the various colors of the rock and sand. It’s been described as an ice cream truck that’s been overturned: turquoise, pink, light green, brown, and black.
By 9 am, we travel with the car air conditioner on full blast. We’ve been taking short walks to vistas and into canyons, always with water and Gatorade within reach. The heat is exhausting, yet we’re not getting much exercise. In fact, the park discourages any hiking and doesn’t give out information on hikes during the summer.
The park was part of the gold rush. But it’s Borax that seems to have been the most successful. Remember 20-mule Borax? The mules were needed to get the borax out of Death Valley and to market.
But the commercial success within Death Valley was short-lived. The Borax people realized that the “gold” was in tourism. They built and expanded tourist facilities and pushed for the area to become a park.
In 1933, Death Valley National Monument was established. It expanded and became a national park in 1994.
We’re staying in Furnace Creek Ranch, in the middle of the park. The land is an inholding, which means that it’s private land surrounded by the park. In the middle of the desert, they have a golf course, tennis courts, and a huge swimming pool. The park attracts lots of international visitors. I’ve heard French, Italian, German, and British accents around the pool and at park vistas.
In the 1920s, the area also attracted a millionaire couple who built Death Valley Ranch as a vacation home. Think of it as Biltmore estate in the desert. They were friends with “Death Valley Scotty”, a con man who ended up living out his life at the opulent ranch. The park service now owns the home and gives tours.