On the Eastern border of California, and near the Western border of Nevada, is an area that is full of mystery, wilderness, and desert solitude. This area is Death Valley National Park. The name alone “Death Valley” transcends time and space, and for hundreds of years has been a beacon to prospectors, explorers, adventurers, and today, casual visitors. While Death Valley is, as its name suggests – a fundamentally hostile environment, with temperatures regularly soaring over 100 degrees from April through October, it is more than a flat wasteland. In reality, Death Valley is one of the most geologically diverse environments on the planet, where the remains of glacial Lake Manly are laid bare, and the effects of active volcanism and erosion are easily visible. Within the confines of Death Valley, one can find tall, uplifted mountains, year-round waterfalls, volcanic craters, sand dunes, eroded canyons, and the lowest spot in North America.
Of the fifty-nine National Parks in the United States, Death Valley is the most infamous, and the least well known. Most people assume that Death Valley is an inhospitable wasteland, with nothing of interest to see or do. However, outdoorspeople, geologists, and adventurers know that Death Valley is a location with interesting geologic features, mining history, tall mountains, sand dunes, volcanic activity, historic structures, and much more. Even if it did not have all of these things and more, Death Valley is a notable location to visit because of Badwater Basin.
Death Valley is a land of many wonders. While it is hard to pick just one thing that is wondrous and amazing about the park, to me it is the prevalence of water in the region, and the different ecosystems that the pockets of water support. Now, let us be clear – not all of the water in that can be found in Death Valley is potable, such as the highly saline pools near Badwater, or the water in Salt Creek. But, for each pocket of water that has high mineral contents in the region, there are also areas like Shorty’s Well that are small, green, pure oases year-round. Out of all these “green” zones in Death Valley, the most famous is Darwin Falls, which is also, aside from Badwater, one of the most accessible water features in the park.
In my opinion, the largest challenge of the Shorty’s Well route is determining the right gear to take for the climb. If you are considering the route, you should be aware that you will need a variety of gear to deal with the various conditions and temperatures from -262 feet of elevation to 11,043 feet of elevation.
The Devil's Golf Course is an area of Death Valley that is close to Badwater. While it is not quite as far below sea level as Badwater, this is an area that is also below sea level. But like Badwater, it shares a common geologic past. Over twenty thousand years ago, the valley floor of Death Valley was not barren and desolate - but instead was covered with water - a large body of water known to geologists and historians as Lake Manly. Lake Manly was full of minerals from the surrounding terrain; and over the course of time, as it evaporated, it left those minerals - and sedimentary rocks behind. Today, what remains are salt crystals from the bottom of the lake - and borax crystal formations. These crystals have grown into an extensive – and hard network of structures. As you can see from the pictures above, the crystal formations have covered the area in a network of sharp formations that are between one to two feet high and are close together. As the area is difficult to traverse on foot, one can only imagine the difficulty one would have attempting to play any sort of golf game (hence the name). While the crystals are spectacular, where myth and fact meet are with the secret pools of water that remain interspersed among the formations.