My two trips to California so far, one back in 2012 and this one in early 2015 have been done in the middle of personal tumult... Yosemite in the midst of my own battle three years ago and Death Valley in the background of a close friend's battle, in very similar circumstances. And this fact probably made these trips memorable and important, in a way.
Death Valley National Park, a little over 800km south east of San Francisco, was a short one and half days diversion from my main trip to San Francisco and surrounding areas. A good long drive to connect with my friend who I was meeting after nearly two decades, try out my new full-frame gizmo and continue my slow progress visiting the beautiful National Parks of North America.
California has perhaps one of the most varied landscapes in continental North America. Snow capped Sierra Nevadas to extreme desert conditions of Mohave Desert of which Death Valley forms a part & the mighty Pacific Ocean pounding its western coast. At 80mts below sea level, parts of Death Valley are among the lowest elevation spots in the continent. And as you drive into the valley, that fact is painfully reminded to you as your ears pop (like a rapid descent on an airline flight) and you go near-deaf for some time until your body gets acclimatized to the sudden change in air pressure.
It was probably the first time that I had the luxury of sitting on the passenger side while on a trip to a National Park, courtesy my friend, and I clicked away with abandon, as the sun set over the Panamint range on entry into the Valley. It's something in the dry desert air but the sunrises and sunsets over Death Valley have an extremely stunning colour quality to them...that I had rarely seen before.
After a nice meal at the Stovewell Pipe Saloon and a much needed rest, we got up well before sunrise the next day and headed to Augerberry point, a less frequented place within the valley. Several of the more prominent viewing spots were closed off for construction/maintenance, so went for whatever we could get. And the spectacular sunrise we witnessed, was the highlight of the whole trip as we spent about an hour at the point before returning back to see some other spots.
A brief stop at Mesquite sand dunes (I can swear I could have spent 6 hours in that small spot without getting bored, it's so beautiful) and we were on our way to the remarkable salt flats in pancake formation. Unbelievable today that this whole valley was under the sea at one time which dried out and left rich deposits of salt and borax. During the gold rush, as the prospectors passed through this valley, there are stories of how the mules/horses would refuse to drink the waters of the few waterholes in the area near the salt flats, due to their toxic nature. Invariably the name Badwater stuck to these salt pans.
Ultimately we ended our trip with a visit to the awesome "Artists' Palette Road", a small section of the valley where mountains seemed to be on colour steroids.
As evening set in, we headed home, through the endless roads melting into the monolithic mountains...puny individuals in this vast sea of arid landscape.