Artist Drive

Artist Drive is perhaps one of the most popular and scenic drives through a colorful palette of geology, located in Death Valley National Park, California. Artist drive is a one way road about nine miles long which takes just about two hour to complete provided you take the time to hike a few of the short trails. The road is a popular destination for hikers and bikers as well as motor vehicles. From the drivers perspective, the road can be quite fun to drive and it twists and turns up and down the colorful hillside.

The hills which contain burst of color were formed by volcanic deposits of different compounds such as iron oxides and chlorite, which creates a rainbow effect of color. There is no bad time to visit, however, the photographer will appreciate the warm afternoon sunlight enhancing the natural colors in the soil. The best features are on a westward facing slope which really benefits from the late hours in the day.

While the colors of the location are amazing, do not forget to turn around the allow the scenic vistas of Death Valley to take your breath away. On a visit during a three day weekend in February 2022, I was surprised by the volume of people on the route. All of the parking lanes were full and it became quite difficult photographically due to the visitors. I will say, that during this time the COVID pandemic was relaxing and it was really nice seeing people enjoying themselves outside.

Prior to becoming a National Park, Assist’s Drive and some of the nearby valley’s were a filming location for the movie Star Wars.

Artist Drive Map

References

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is perhaps one of the best known and popular overlooks in the entire Death Valley National Park, California. The landmark is named for Christian Brevoort Zabriskie who was the Vice President of the Pacific Coast Borax Company.

Zabriskie Point bathed in warm afternoon light in Death Valley National Park - Photo by James L Rathbun
Zabriskie Point bathed in warm afternoon light in Death Valley National Park – Photo by James L Rathbun

The elevated overlook of a huge area of yellow-brown-black ancient mud lands composed of sediments from the ancient Furnace Creek Lake. A short hike from the parking lot allows is a visitor to see the expanse of the badlands. A longer hike will take the explorer down through Golden Canyon to the floor of Death National National Park. The site is best visited during the “golden hours” of warm light in the evening and mornings. The best viewing occurs at sunrise.

Zabriskie Point - Photo by James L Rathbun
Zabriskie Point – Photo by James L Rathbun

The site was made famous in popular culture by a movie from 1970 of the same name. For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, the cover of the U2 Album, The Joshua Tree features a photograph by Anton Corbijn at Zabriskie Point.

The cover of The Joshua Tree by U2 was taken in Death Valley - photograph by Anton Corbijn
The cover of The Joshua Tree by U2 was taken in Death Valley – photograph by Anton Corbijn

The only draw back with visiting this location is that it is almost always crowded during the prime months.

Zabriskie Point Map

References

Badwater Basin

Located at 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is a popular stop for sightseers visiting Death Valley National Park, California. The site is located about 17 miles south of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road.

Badwater Basin located at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley National Park. - Photo by James L Rathbun
Badwater Basin located at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley National Park. – Photo by James L Rathbun

History

It is rumored the name Badwater is earned when a mule from a survey team refused to drink from the shallow pool. Despite the name, the only thing “wrong” with the water is its salinity. Oddly enough, if one were to drink it, they would probably just get thirstier. Which is not a good thing in the hottest place on Earth.

Badwater is simply to lowest place in the basin and surrounded by 200 square miles of salt flat. The salt accumulated over time as water flowed into Lake Manly. Lake Manyly is a temporary lake, which forms from run off during thunderstorms and rain showers. As the water from this lake recede, and with no outlet from the basin, the salts and other minerals accumulated. The salt flat is composed on sodium chloride, calcite, gypsum and borax.

Every trip to Badwater in the past few years results in parking frustration and relatively larger groups of people. Take care of yourself in the hotter months as the severe heat can be deadly.

Pets are not allowed on any trail in Death Valley National Park, even if carried. Do not leave your animal in your vehicle. Speak with a ranger about one of the incredible dirt roads where you may walk your pet.

Badwater 135

Badwater is host to the starting line for the Badwater 135, an ultra-marathon for the ultra-crazy. The marathon starts at Badwater and runners, run, jog, and walk over one hundred and thirty miles to the Mount Whitney Portal Campground. Over the course of about two days, the runners gain over 14,600 feet in total elevation and this is done in the heat of midsummer just to make it interesting.

Summary

NameBadwater Basin
LocationDeath Valley National Park, California
Latitude, Longitude36.250278, -116.825833
Elevation-282 feet
OtherRound Trip Length: 1 mile (1.6km) to edge of salt flat
Round Trip Time: 40 minutes
Dificulty: Easy 
Elevation Gain: Flat
Trail Type: Boardwalk then route, out and back 
Location: Badwater Road, 30 minutes (17 miles/27km) south of Furnace Creek
Parking: Paved parking lot with large spaces for RVs and buses
Closest Restroom: Vault toilet located in parking lot
Route: An ADA accessible ramp leads down to a wooden boardwalk. The walking surface is firm and wide beyond the boardwalk. 

Badwater Basin Map

References

Hot Creek Geologic Site

Hot Creek Geologic Site is located near Mammoth, Lake just off the 395 Highway in Mono County, California. The stream originates from Twin Lakes in Mammoth and continues on to Lake Crowley. The site is located near and a beautiful cold water stream which is located over a geothermal vent. Warm water is heated from a magma chamber located about three miles below the earths surface and bubbles up into the steam warming the water.

Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California
Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California

The Hot Creek does offer excellent fishing opportunities and popular among fly fisherman. Fishing used to be limited to barbless hooks.

No Swimming

The stream is now closed to swimming becuase “Earthquakes can cause sudden geyser eruptions and overnight appearances of new hot springs at Hot Creek.  Water temperatures can change rapidly, and so entering the water is prohibited. ” Reports of hot water geysers up to 6 feet tall in 2006 and rapidly fluctuating temperatures apparently caused the closure of the stream to swimming.

My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life the hot springs area has become too dangerous to swim.

J Rathbun

As a child and young adult, the stream was open to swimming and my family did this routinely on almost every trip. I recall active conversations about the possibility of an geyser eruption which would kill us and we understood the risk of swimming. However, we also understood the possibility of an such an event was very remote when one considers the geologic time tables. My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life, the area has become too dangerous to swim.

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Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater is a volcanic crater located near Grapevine Canyon in Death Valley National Park in California. The crater is approximately 600 deep and one half mile across and a popular spot for visitors in the park. The crater is created by a Maar Volcano, which is a shallow volcano caused when groundwater comes in contact with volcanic magma.

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, California
Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, California

The crater was originally known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah” from the Timbisha Shoshone Indian phrase for Coyote’s Basket. At some point, the crater was renamed to “Ubehebe” which is the name of a near by mountain and comes from the Paiute Indian name for “Big Basket”. Regardless of the name, the crater does remind one of a basket in the earth.

A Panorama looking from Ubehebe Crater overlooking the cinder fields, Death Valley National Park
A Panorama looking from Ubehebe Crater overlooking the cinder fields, Death Valley National Park

The road into Ubehebe serves as the starting points to the Race Track Valley Road, Teakettle Junction and Hunter Mountain Road.

Hiking

There are a few separate hiking opportunities while exploring the crater.

The crater rim trail, which is about 1.5 miles long, circumnavigates the crater and allows access to Little Hebe crater. The trail has some slight elevation gain, however could be more difficult to hikes with balance issue due to the unstable soil.

There is also a trail down the the bottom of the crater. This is a short trail and very easy going down. The difficulty is hiking back up the 600 feet elevation lost on the way down, in loose volcanic soil.

Ubehebe Crater Trail Map

References