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Driest

[Death Valley National Park, Mar 31, 2019]

This time, we intentionally set our alarm for 6 am. We both enjoyed the cooler temps and fewer crowds the early hours afforded us, so it was not a hard sell.

We first headed out to the Mesquite Sand Dunes on the west side of the park. They are the most popular sight in the park, which surprised me as I would have thought Badwater basin holds that honor. They can be seen from the road, but parking in the designated area and walking into them is a whole lot of fun, which we didn’t expect. It was still early and cool, and it was easy to head away from people and find ourselves in the middle of the dunes all on our own. We could see people climbing the tallest of the dunes in the distance, with the mountains in stark contrast behind them. This made for excellent photos.

We also found more salt flats here, although these were tiny little pools of white in the depressions between dunes, not the expansive flats we saw yesterday.

Next, we drove another 40 minutes or so to Ubehebe crater, which we’d seen on the way into the park on our first day. On the way there, we passed the dirt road leading deep into the park towards the Racetrack. It’s home to strangely moving rocks, which leaves tracks along the surface of the dry lake bed. Scientists just recently figured out what causes the rocks to move. When it rains, the dry lake bed becomes a shallow lake. If the lake freezes overnight, the rocks get trapped in the ice. The next day, as the surface warms up, the rocks are no longer trapped in the ice and the breeze can push them a few hundred feet along the surface.

The Racetrack.
Photo by John Flower via Flicker. No modifications. Shared under Creative Commons license 2.0.

We considered going out there, but the road is so rough that a regular 4×4 vehicle, like the one we had, would still leave you rattled from bouncing for 27 miles, and we would have needed offroad tires as well just to be safe. Getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere (no cell coverage along the way) would not have been good. Renting a jeep from within the park would have cost $300, and the trip itself would have taken a full day by itself, so we let it be. If we do manage to come back, we would definitely do it, now that we’ve seen the rest of the sights in the park.

The Ubehebe crater was super neat. It was created by a volcanic steam explosion that took place about 2,000 years ago – that makes it a very young feature in the park. The name comes from the Paiute tribe. It’s 600 ft deep and a half-mile across.

There is a trail that goes down in the crater as well as a trail along the rim. We took the one along the rim until we reached another small crater, Little Hebe. From there, we climbed the next hill over to get a great view of both craters. We could have continued on to complete the loop, but we chose to come back the way we came as it was shorter and we didn’t think that finishing the loop would provide any better views of the crater. We spent about an hour total at the crater.

As we headed back to our hotel, we took a short detour on Titus Canyon Rd. Most of this road is currently closed to vehicular traffic. It’s a one-way 27-mile road that connects Beatty, NV to the western section of the park where we were. It passes through the Grapevine mountains. The last 3 miles on the west-most section of this road were open to two-way traffic and we decided to travel on it to see what it’s like. After about 5 minutes, I was over it and wanted to turn back – a sign that we made the right decision about the Racetrack.

We got back to our hotel around noon, leaving us plenty of time for R&R. We spent the bulk of it on our balcony, where I wrote these blog entries while B read his book. We saw what looked like a small wolf on the lawn right outside. Thanks to the pictures of Death Valley animals in my park map, I later realized it was a kit fox.

We grabbed dinner at the buffet at our hotel, and afterwards we headed back to Zabriskie point to watch the sunset. We got there early, anticipating it to get busy, but there weren’t too many people. Still, we enjoyed watching the colors of everything around us change. It was a great way to end our visit to Death Valley – we headed home the next day.

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