Saturday, February 12, 2011

Exploring Death Valley

Given that winter has been almost non-existent (save for one December storm) in the desert southwest, I decided it was time to quit grumbling about it and go somewhere warm! Death Valley National Park in southern California had long been on my "must-see" list and I figured it was time for a visit. I figured since I'd be driving all that way (about 7 hours from Sedona), I'd make a side trip to the Alabama Hills Recreation Area on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as well. The Sierras have also been high on my photographic bucket list and was time to pay them a quick visit.

Death Valley is actually a fairly recent member of the national park was designated so back in 1994. Before then, it was bequeathed national monument status back in 1933. When it became a national park, the amount of land protected was increased. So much so, that it immediately became the largest national park in the continental U.S. (there are larger parks in Alaska). Because of its enormous size and remote location, a fair amount of planning is required to successfully photograph it...especially for a first time visit. One thing's for sure...don't expect to be able to do a quickie day trip here. The closest major city, Las Vegas, is almost a three hour drive. That's six hours spent before even seeing the park. Plus, many of the major sights within the park require anywhere from a half hour to more than two hours of drive time between them. That's a prohibitive amount of driving in my book. At least a one overnight is a necessity. I chose to spend four days in the park on this trip (with a fifth day spent at Alabama Hills). One would need to spend weeks here to really experience everything the park has to offer.

The main claim to fame in the park is that it's the hottest place in country. Triple digit temperatures are the norm from May through a good part of October, and can top out at over 120F! Needless to say the summer months are not the time to visit! Another is that the park contains the lowest point in the country (and second lowest in the western hemisphere) at 282 ft below sea level in the Badwater Basin. A common misconception of the park is that it's nothing but desert. So wrong! There are multiple mountain ranges present in the park with the Panamint Range being the largest. Telescope Peak in the Panamints rises to over 11,000 ft and can be viewed from the Badwater area. That's a lot of vertical relief in such close proximity!

Ok...enough of the background information concerning the park and on to my particular adventure! Probably the best way to tackle this is in the form of a day by day travelogue. So here goes....