Category

Desert

The Racetrack, Death Valley National Park

California, Death Valley, Desert, National Parks

Photos of the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, and the Racetrack’s sliding rocks (or sailing stones).

The Racetrack is an ancient dry lake bed in Death Valley, famous for its sailing stones. Located between the Last Chance Mountains and the Cottonwood Mountains, the Racetrack Playa lies at 3600′ above sea level, is about 3 miles long by 1 mile wide in size, and appears almost perfectly flat. Much of the year the Racetrack lakebed is totally dessicated and covered with small hexagonal mud patterns, although during the two rainy seasons that Death Valley experiences the playa becomes muddy and is sometimes “underwater”. At the south end of the Racetrack Playa are found the Racetrack’s famous “sailing stones”. Typically about the size of a shoe box or larger, the stones mysteriously move about the playa leaving trails behind them. Noone has actually observed any of the stones moving. One theory about their locomotion suggests that a combination of wet mud (during the winter rainy season) and high winds, perhaps combined with a thin layer of ice atop the mud, allows the stones to slide. Evidence indicates that the rocks move once every few years, and that tracks last only 4-5 years. My hunch is the occasions of the stones’ movement is a function of seasonal weather patterns and the presence or absence of sufficient water, wind and ice to trigger the sailing phenomenon. The sailing stones originate on the slope of a hill that rises above the south end of the playa. Many of the stones have moved hundreds of yards from their source, out toward the center of the lake bed, each leaving a striated channel behind it in the mud, like the wake of a boat.

Sunset over the Racetrack Playa. The Cottonwood Mountains rise above the flat, dry, ancient lake bed, Death Valley National Park, California

Sunset over the Racetrack Playa. The Cottonwood Mountains rise above the flat, dry, ancient lake bed.
Image ID: 25265
Location: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

A sliding rock of the Racetrack Playa.  The sliding rocks, or sailing stones, move across the mud flats of the Racetrack Playa, leaving trails behind in the mud.  The explanation for their movement is not known with certainty, but many believe wind pushes the rocks over wet and perhaps icy mud in winter, Death Valley National Park, California

A sliding rock of the Racetrack Playa. The sliding rocks, or sailing stones, move across the mud flats of the Racetrack Playa, leaving trails behind in the mud. The explanation for their movement is not known with certainty, but many believe wind pushes the rocks over wet and perhaps icy mud in winter.
Image ID: 25243
Location: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

The Grandstand, standing above dried mud flats, on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, Death Valley National Park, California

The Grandstand, standing above dried mud flats, on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.
Image ID: 25318
Location: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Racetrack Playa, an ancient lake now dried and covered with dessicated mud, Death Valley National Park, California

Racetrack Playa, an ancient lake now dried and covered with dessicated mud.
Image ID: 25315
Location: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Sailing stone on the Death Valley Racetrack playa.  The sliding rocks, or sailing stones, move across the mud flats of the Racetrack Playa, leaving trails behind in the mud.  The explanation for their movement is not known with certainty, but many believe wind pushes the rocks over wet and perhaps icy mud in winter, Death Valley National Park, California

Sailing stone on the Death Valley Racetrack playa. The sliding rocks, or sailing stones, move across the mud flats of the Racetrack Playa, leaving trails behind in the mud. The explanation for their movement is not known with certainty, but many believe wind pushes the rocks over wet and perhaps icy mud in winter.
Image ID: 25333
Location: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

At the north end of the Racetrack is found the “Grandstand”, an assemblage of giant round boulders stacked in the middle of the playa. In the olden days**, miners would gather on the Grandstand to stage and watch horse races on the playa.

Our visit: After we left the Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, we drove on some long but easy dirt roads to Scotty’s Castle where we stopped for lunch and to stretch our legs. We saw some great expanses of flowers along the way, evidence that the wildflower bloom comes later to the higher-altitude reaches of Death Valley. After Scotty’s Castle, we drove to the Racetrack via the notorious Uhebehebe-Crater-to-Racetrack-Road, a 27-mile-long dirt road that is famous for its tire-piercing ability and funky Teakettle Junction at which a photo must be taken. (Yes, those are actual teakettles hanging from the Teakettle Junction sign.) 4WD is not required for this drive but the suspensions that 4WD vehicles typically have are helpful for the washboard track. Sturdy tires with sidewall puncture resistant are also helpful. I have experienced a flat tire on this road in the past and it was a bummer, but on this visit we were in a well-equipped off-road vehicle and the road was in super shape so we made it to the Racetrack in about 45 minutes with no drama. We spent one sunset admiring the sailing stones, then shot some night sky photos and milky way timelapse video while camping at the primitive campground beyond the Racetrack. We returned to look at the rocks again at sunrise the next morning, then climbed to the top of the Grandstand on our way back out to Uhebehebe Crater. We saw one car in the distance while we were at the playa, but never actually enountered another person the entire time we were there. It was great.

I wish Leonard Nimoy would produce an episode of “In Search Of” about these uber-curious stones since it is my theory that, while they are interesting to landscape photographers, the mud tracks are actually landing strips left behind by tiny alien spacecraft. I discovered another Alien Spaceport in California some years ago. I now believe there is a network of these facilities, with the Racetrack being just one example. I will continue my investigations in this regard.

**Olden days (n): a technical term referring to a vague period in history that occurred sometime before I was alive and about which I know virtually nothing.

Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

California, Death Valley, Desert, Infrared, National Parks

Stock photos of the Eureka Valley Sand Dunes and the Eureka Valley in Death Valley National Park.

One of the goals of our recent Death Valley trip was to reach the wonderful Eureka Valley Sand Dunes. At almost 700′ tall, these dunes are some of the tallest in the United States (and are the tallest in California). The Eureka Valley lies in the northern reaches of Death Valley National Park, and became an official part of the Death Valley National Park in 1994 with the passage of the Desert Protection Act. The Eureka dune field is approximately 3 miles long and one mile wide, with the tallest dunes being at the north end. The Eureka Valley is geologically impressive, with the Last Chance Mountain Range rising 5500′ above the valley floor on the north and east and the Saline Mountains rising in the west. We reached the Eureka Valley via the Big Pine Road from Highway 395, spent a night at the primitive campground, and left via the Big Pine Road for the Racetrack. Conditions were ideal when we were there, with cool and calm weather and absolutely clear skies with a new moon that made a great night to photograph the Milky Way. We were also treated to a fly-by of the International Space Station in the northern sky just after sunset. I managed to shoot an interesting time lapse movie of the Milky Way rising above the southern horizon. Walking about the dunes, we came across the endangered Eureka Valley Dune Grass, and witnessed the strange phenomenon of “singing sands”. When a sand slope of just the right size and inclination was disturbed, the moving sand produced a deep thrumming that sounded just like a distant airplane. In the morning we found blooming wildflowers in the dessicated mud fields at the foot of the dunes, including the endangered Eureka Valley Evening Primrose and a little wildflower I have yet to identify. Our quick visit was nearly perfect — my one regret is not hiking all the way to the summit of the tallest dune. I am eager to return, and in the future I may skip the southern end of the park entirely and split my time between the Eureka Valley and the White Mountains (bristlecones!). If I do, the first order of business will be to ascend straight to the top of the tallest dune and hoist a cold one.

Eureka Dunes.  The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are California's tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States.  Rising 680' above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as "singing sand" that makes strange sounds when it shifts.  Located in the remote northern portion of Death Valley National Park, the Eureka Dunes see very few visitors

Eureka Dunes. The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are California’s tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States. Rising 680′ above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as “singing sand” that makes strange sounds when it shifts. Located in the remote northern portion of Death Valley National Park, the Eureka Dunes see very few visitors.
Image ID: 25250
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Eureka Dunes.  The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are California's tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States.  Rising 680' above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as "singing sand" that makes strange sounds when it shifts.  Located in the remote northern portion of Death Valley National Park, the Eureka Dunes see very few visitors

Eureka Dunes. The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are California’s tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States. Rising 680′ above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as “singing sand” that makes strange sounds when it shifts. Located in the remote northern portion of Death Valley National Park, the Eureka Dunes see very few visitors.
Image ID: 25249
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Sunset on the Last Chance Mountain Range, seen from Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Sunset on the Last Chance Mountain Range, seen from Eureka Valley Sand Dunes.
Image ID: 25238
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Eureka Dunes.  The Eureka Dunes are California's tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States.  Rising 680' above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as "singing sand" that makes strange sounds when it shifts, Death Valley National Park

Eureka Dunes. The Eureka Dunes are California’s tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States. Rising 680′ above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as “singing sand” that makes strange sounds when it shifts.
Image ID: 25251
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Eureka Sand Dunes, infrared black and white.  The Eureka Dunes are California's tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States.  Rising 680' above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as "singing sand" that makes strange sounds when it shifts, Death Valley National Park

Eureka Sand Dunes, infrared black and white. The Eureka Dunes are California’s tallest sand dunes, and one of the tallest in the United States. Rising 680′ above the floor of the Eureka Valley, the Eureka sand dunes are home to several endangered species, as well as “singing sand” that makes strange sounds when it shifts.
Image ID: 25376
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are home to a few notable and imperiled plant species, which I blogged about recently: the Eureka Valley Evening Primrose (Oenothera californica eurekensis) and Eureka Valley Dune Grass (Swallenia alexandrae)

Eureka Valley Dune Grass, Swallenia alexandrae

California, Death Valley, Desert, Flora, National Parks

Stock photos of the Eureka Valley Dune Grass, Swallenia alexandrae, in Death Valley National Park.

The Eureka Valley Dune Grass (Swallenia alexandrae) is a federally endangered grass found only in the Eureka Valley, in the far northern reaches of Death Valley National Park. Swallenia is a monotypic genus, consisting only of the one species alexandrae. The grass is a rhizome, forming horizontal stems that spread laterally underneath the sand, producing new roots and shoots that lead to a tufted aggregation of the plant. This perennial grass grows on the slopes of the Eureka Valley Sand Dunes. In the past its survival was threatened by off-road vehicles, which were prohibited by BLM in the Eureka Valley in 1976 with enforcement effectively beginning in 1980. The area became part of Death Valley National Park in 1994. We found a number of small tufts of Eureka Valley Dune Grass on the dunes. This one depicts the Last Chance Mountain Range in the background, viewed from the north end of the dunes.

Eureka dune grass, and rare and federally endangered species of grass  endemic to the Eureka Valley and Eureka Sand Dunes.  The Last Chance mountains, lit by sunset, as visible in the distance.  Swallenia alexandrae, a perennial grass, grows only in the southern portion of Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, in Inyo County, California, Swallenia alexandrae, Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Eureka dune grass, and rare and federally endangered species of grass endemic to the Eureka Valley and Eureka Sand Dunes. The Last Chance mountains, lit by sunset, as visible in the distance. Swallenia alexandrae, a perennial grass, grows only in the southern portion of Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, in Inyo County, California.
Image ID: 25358
Species: Eureka Valley dune grass, Eureka dunegrass, Swallenia alexandrae
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are home to another notable and imperiled plant species, which I blogged about recently: the Eureka Valley Evening Primrose (Oenothera californica eurekensis)

Eureka Valley Evening Primrose, Oenothera californica eurekensis

California, Death Valley, Desert, Flora, National Parks, Wildflowers

Stock photos of the Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose, Oenothera californica eurekensis, in Death Valley National Park.

The Eureka Valley Evening Primrose (Oenothera californica eurekensis) is a federally endangered wildflower found only on and near the sand dune habitat of the Eureka Valley, in the far northern reaches of Death Valley National Park. Observed primarily at the Eureka Sand Dunes, it is also found on the nearby Saline Spur Dunes and Marble Canyon Dunes. According to a 2007 review of the 1982 recovery plan for the species, the Eureka Valley Evening Primrose is “a subspecies with a moderate degree of threat and a high recovery potential.” During spring and fall seasons that have enough rainfall, the plant blooms (typically April through June) with large white flowers that turn red as they age. As soon as I saw the first one, it instantly reminded me of its close cousin, the Dune Evening Primrose that I have seen in Anza Borrego. I am intrigued at how severely ecologically isolated the Eureka Valley Evening Primrose is, existing on just three sets of sand dunes. Sort of like a plant found on only a tiny atoll in the middle of the ocean, but this is the desert. Because of its rare nature and the wherethehellamI habitat in which it resides, it is now one of my favorite flowers.

Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose.  A federally endangered plant, Oenothera californica eurekensis is a perennial herb that produces white flowers from April to June. These flowers turn red as they age. The Eureka Dunes evening-primrose is found only in the southern portion of Eureka Valley Sand Dunes system in Indigo County, California, Oenothera californica eurekensis, Death Valley National Park

Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose. A federally endangered plant, Oenothera californica eurekensis is a perennial herb that produces white flowers from April to June. These flowers turn red as they age. The Eureka Dunes evening-primrose is found only in the southern portion of Eureka Valley Sand Dunes system in Indigo County, California.
Image ID: 25237
Species: Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose, Oenothera californica eurekensis
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose.  A federally endangered plant, Oenothera californica eurekensis is a perennial herb that produces white flowers from April to June. These flowers turn red as they age. The Eureka Dunes evening-primrose is found only in the southern portion of Eureka Valley Sand Dunes system in Indigo County, California, Oenothera californica eurekensis, Death Valley National Park

Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose. A federally endangered plant, Oenothera californica eurekensis is a perennial herb that produces white flowers from April to June. These flowers turn red as they age. The Eureka Dunes evening-primrose is found only in the southern portion of Eureka Valley Sand Dunes system in Indigo County, California.
Image ID: 25267
Species: Eureka Valley Dune Evening Primrose, Oenothera californica eurekensis
Location: Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

I recently made a short visit to the Eureka Dunes with my photographer friends Garry McCarthy and John Moore. We were on a sort of banzai run**, trying to cover Eureka Dunes, the Racetrack and Badwater Salt Flats in 3 days. We definitely were not looking for wildflowers, so we were fortunate to find a few Eureka Valley Evening Primroses along the outskirts of the dunes. Our visit took place in mid-May, and heading into Death Valley I figured the wildflowers were past peak and would be burnt to a crisp by the harsh conditions. Indeed, in the lower regions of the park, wildflowers that presented such an excellent display earlier in the spring were long gone. However, the floor of the Eureka Valley is at an elevation of 2800′, where conditions are much cooler. In fact, as we approached Eureka Valley, and especially on the dirt roads between Eureka Valley and Death Valley at altitudes between 2000′ and 4000′, I was surprised by the richness and variety of the wildflower displays. It really was superb, and I might consider that region for a wildflower trip in future years since it offers a ton of solitude and some awesome vistas.

The Eureka Valley Sand Dunes are home to another endangered plant species: the Eureka Valley Dune Grass, Swallenia alexandrae.

**banzai photographer (n): (1) a photographer with a working spouse and multiple kids each of whom has lots of activities that require driving all over the place during the week, help with homework in the evenings, and then driving all over the place on the weekends; (2) a photographer who crams five days of photography into a single weekend; (3) a photographer with a banzai attitude about life; (4) a photographer who photographs banzai trees.

Raging Waters in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

California, Desert, Video, Wildflowers

It is uncommon for water to be flowing in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. At least, I have never seen it before. Sure, the washes are there for a reason: they channel rainwater that comes down the canyons out to the floor of the Anza-Borrego basin. But the running water does not last long. So as I was out in Anza-Borrego for a look-see at the spring wildflower bloom and cactus situation, I was pleased to see the stream in Borrego Palm Canyon, near the visitor center, still running after the most recent bout of rains the week before. The sounds of the running water were pleasant so I used my camera to record a little video and tried to include some of the brittlebush alongside the stream that is just coming into bloom now. This was shot Saturday morning a few minutes after sunrise.

Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflower Update

California, Desert, Wildflowers

Brittlebush at sunrise, dawn, springtime bloom, Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Encelia farinosa, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Brittlebush at sunrise, dawn, springtime bloom, Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24301
Species: Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

I made a sunrise visit to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, my first visit this spring. By 9am I had seen enough to know there was no further point in staying, and the light had grown harsh. There is some good news and bad news — bad news first.

Bad: Since I have been monitoring reports from other photographers for the past month, especially Ron Niebrugge‘s, I had a reasonable idea of what to expect. Nonetheless, I was surprised and deeply disappointed by the extent to which invasive Sarahan mustard has overrun some of the best and most accessible wildflower areas of past years. Everyone who has visited Anza-Borrego for wildflowers is probably familiar with the alluvial flood area that descends from Coyote Canyon, and is bordered by DiGorgio Road on the west, Henderson Canyon Road on the south, and mountains to the east. My fear is that that entire area will never again produce the gorgeous expanses of Dune Evening Primrose and Sand Verbena that is has in the past. Currently, it is totally overrun and choked by saharan mustard. In theory this year’s timing of rain and warm spells should have produced a fantastic bloom in that area right about now, peaking in the next 10 days or so. Well, that won’t be happening. I did not even bother to get my camera out as I made a few stops on Henderson Canyon Road and past the end of DiGiorgio Road; I had a hard time even finding patches of verbena to look at. With some walking way in from the road, one can find patches of sand verbena (Abronia villosa) but honestly they are just nothing like in past years. While there are desert lilies about, they are overshadowed by the taller, engulfing mustard. My favorite desert flower, the dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides), is just not happening this season; the few that are blooming are being smothered. To the east of Borrego Springs, on S22 out toward the Fonts Point and Arroyo Salado turnoffs, past years have often had large swaths of sand verbena. That’s not happening in those areas right now, and probably won’t this year. Mustard is starting to appear in those areas as well, unfortunately.

I hate to say it, but my sense is that this year’s flower bloom in Anza-Borrego will be (is?) sub-par. The same may hold true for the Coachella Valley. We saw virtually no color on the western flanks of the Coachella Valley, including almost no brittlebush, as we left Palm Desert and drove up into the mountains today.

Good: I think this may be a super year for cactus blooms. I went to a couple of my favorite canyons and found thousands of cacti, including large red barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus), looking healthy, in bud stage or just beginning to bloom. They look great. I plan to come back in a couple weeks to see how they have progressed. Brittlebush is beginning to bloom now, and looks very good in some areas, including Borrego Palm Canyon (near the visitor center), where it can be seen growing alongside the short-lived stream that is still flowing (video). While the brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) is sparse relative to past years, it provides the best opportunities for color. I am hopeful the brittlebush fills out and covers the western flanks of the Anza-Borrego basin in yellow as it has in the past. If it does, it will probably take at least another week or two to develop that way.

I will return in another week or so for the cactus, ocotillo, agave and brittlebush, but with little hope for the flowers.

Update 1: Micheal Gordon posted his observations (similar to mine). Many have commented on the Carol Leigh’s Calphoto wildflower sheet, also with some dour news about the mustard

Update 2: I was pleased to see water in Palm Canyon, so I shot and posted a little video of the stream flowing past brittlebush.

Update 3: Oh, yeah, here is a shameless plug: Borrego Springs House for Sale! A family member is selling a home in Borrego Springs. It is a beautiful, custom, single-level high-end home with interior pool and courtyard on a large quiet lot. Let me know if you are interested.

Below are some photos I got this morning between sunrise and 9am.

Brittlebush blooms in spring, Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Encelia farinosa, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Brittlebush blooms in spring, Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24304
Species: Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Red barrel cactus, Glorietta Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Ferocactus cylindraceus, Anza Borrego, California

Red barrel cactus, Glorietta Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24302
Species: Red barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Cholla cactus, sunrise, dawn, Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Opuntia, Anza Borrego, California

Cholla cactus, sunrise, dawn, Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24305
Species: Cholla cactus, Opuntia
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Red barrel flower bloom, cactus detail, spines and flower on top of the cactus, Glorietta Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Ferocactus cylindraceus, Anza Borrego, California

Red barrel flower bloom, cactus detail, spines and flower on top of the cactus, Glorietta Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24309
Species: Red barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Photo of the Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley National Park

California, Death Valley, Desert, National Parks

The Devil’s Golf Course is a curious assemblage of crystalline salt shapes spread over a large swath of the Death Valley salt pan. This saltpan, which is the lowest point in Death Valley National Park, and indeed the western hemisphere, holds a small amount of subsurface moisture. This water is extremely salty and briny, a result of the accumulation of minerals that were left behind when the 30-foot-deep Holocene-era lake disappeared (the accumulation continues with each year’s winter rains). Capillary action draws the subsurface moisture upward. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind salt crystals that form myriad fantastic shapes. The growth is quite slow, perhaps as little as one inch every 35 years. Wind friction and seasonal flooding of the area during winter storms erodes or reshapes the salt crystal forms, and the process continues.

Devils Golf Course, California.  Evaporated salt has formed into gnarled, complex crystalline shapes in on the salt pan of Death Valley National Park, one of the largest salt pans in the world.  The shapes are constantly evolving as occasional floods submerge the salt concretions before receding and depositing more salt

Devils Golf Course, California. Evaporated salt has formed into gnarled, complex crystalline shapes in on the salt pan of Death Valley National Park, one of the largest salt pans in the world. The shapes are constantly evolving as occasional floods submerge the salt concretions before receding and depositing more salt.
Image ID: 15582
Location: Devils Golf Course, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Devils Golf Course. Evaporated salt has formed into gnarled, complex crystalline shapes on the salt pan of Death Valley National Park, one of the largest salt pans in the world.  The shapes are constantly evolving as occasional floods submerge the salt concretions before receding and depositing more salt

Devils Golf Course. Evaporated salt has formed into gnarled, complex crystalline shapes on the salt pan of Death Valley National Park, one of the largest salt pans in the world. The shapes are constantly evolving as occasional floods submerge the salt concretions before receding and depositing more salt.
Image ID: 20552
Location: Devils Golf Course, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Photo of Badwater, Death Valley National Park

California, Death Valley, Desert, National Parks

Badwater is the lowest point in Death Valley National Park, at 282 feet below sea level. Indeed, it is the lowest point in the entire western hemisphere. The Badwater Basin is the catch point for 9000 square miles of drainage, however, there is typically little water here except following winter rains, since the water evaporates quickly. When it does, it leaves behind a saline, crusty, flat white playa made up of almost pure table salt and stretching for miles — a bizarre place. Evaporation is most extreme in Death Valley: a 1.9 inch annual rainfall is exceeded by evaporation potential of 150 inches per year, enough to scorch a 12 foot deep lake to dust in just 12 months. The water that does manage to persist here is the motivation for the place’s name, for it is a salty, warm, nasty swill which you are advised not to drink. A small, specialized species of snail, the Badwater snail, somehow manages to eke out an existence in these waters. Rising above the parking area are some of the oldest rocks in Death Valley, 1.7 billion (with a b) year old Precambrian volcanic and sedimentary rock layers that have metamorphosed into gneiss. Perched 282 feet up the cliff face is a sign marking sea level. If you visit, be sure to walk out onto the playa, not just a hundred yards or so but far enough that the other visitors and their cars become specks. Admire the sheer white horizon stretching in all directions, the Panamint Mountain and Black Mountain ranges that form the walls of the valley, and the blue sky. Hear the silence as your feet crackle and crunch the salt upon which you walk. Feel the parched air wick the sweat off your skin. Feel your throat become dry. Squint. So nice. Now back to the car and air conditioning, to sip your Diet Coke.

Badwater, Death Valley.  A spring feeds this small pool year round.  The water is four times more saline than ocean water.  The small Badwater snail (Assiminea infima) is found only in Death Valley, in spring-fed pools such as these, and is threatened by habitat destruction.  At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in North America, Death Valley National Park, California

Badwater, Death Valley. A spring feeds this small pool year round. The water is four times more saline than ocean water. The small Badwater snail (Assiminea infima) is found only in Death Valley, in spring-fed pools such as these, and is threatened by habitat destruction. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in North America.
Image ID: 20554
Location: Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Badwater, California.  Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America.  9000 square miles of watershed drain into the Badwater basin, to dry and form huge white salt flats, Death Valley National Park

Badwater, California. Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America. 9000 square miles of watershed drain into the Badwater basin, to dry and form huge white salt flats.
Image ID: 15579
Location: Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Badwater, California.  Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America.  9000 square miles of watershed drain into the Badwater basin, to dry and form huge white salt flats, Death Valley National Park

Badwater, California. Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America. 9000 square miles of watershed drain into the Badwater basin, to dry and form huge white salt flats.
Image ID: 15580
Location: Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Photo of Pink Sunrise on Telescope Peak over Badwater

California, Death Valley, Desert, National Parks

I’ve been on a few deep scuba dives in my life but relative to sea level this is as deep as I have ever been, and I didn’t even need to strap on a scuba tank to get there. Seen here is delicate pre-dawn pink light on a snow covered Telescope Peak, viewed from Badwater. Telescope Peak, at 11,049 feet, is the highest point in Death Valley National Park as well as the Panamint Range. Badwater is the lowest point in Death Valley National Park, at 282 feet below sea level.

Sunrise lights Telescope Peak as it rises over the salt flats of Badwater, Death Valley.  At 11,049 feet, Telescope Peak is the highest peak in the Panamint Range as well as the highest point in Death Valley National Park.  At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in North America

Sunrise lights Telescope Peak as it rises over the salt flats of Badwater, Death Valley. At 11,049 feet, Telescope Peak is the highest peak in the Panamint Range as well as the highest point in Death Valley National Park. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in North America.
Image ID: 20549
Location: Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Photo of Dune Evening Primrose

California, Desert, Wildflowers

My favorite desert flower to photograph is the dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides). It is so elegant and striking that even a blind monkey with a broken camera can get a good shot of this flower. I’ve seen them in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park during years of good spring bloom, this year being one of them. This from Sunday morning:

Dune primrose (white) and sand verbena (purple) bloom in spring in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, mixing in a rich display of desert color.  Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Oenothera deltoides, Abronia villosa, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Dune primrose (white) and sand verbena (purple) bloom in spring in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, mixing in a rich display of desert color. Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 20464
Species: Dune Evening Primrose, Sand Verbena, Oenothera deltoides, Abronia villosa
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Found throughout the Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin deserts of the southwest, dune evening primrose forms a soft white four-petal flower with yellow center, sometimes turning pink or light brown as they age. Dune evening primrose grows in clusters, often mixed with sand verbena. Coyote Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is chock full of dune evening primrose right now.