Autumn Colors and Amazing Rock Formations

image Utah is Beautiful!

Interstate 15 takes us to I-70 East, our yellow brick road into Denver, some 500 miles away.

Around Richfield we catch the colors of autumn and giggle with surprise and delight, like 2 little kids, which is not far off the mark.

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But wait, it gets better!

Within 30 minutes the landscape changes into these awesome rock formations:

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There’s a scenic viewpoint pull-out and we stop to admire, take pictures, and find out more at my favorite roadside plaques filled with factoids for me to decipher.

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We are viewing the effects of the San Rafael swell, which in geological terms refers to a domed area or gently arched landforms covering a sizeable region. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

From the plaque at the site, this is my translation of what I learned:

Exposed layers of the earth’s eroding crust color-coded millions of years of earth’s geological history.

The velvety gray shale is from the ancient Cretaceous sea.

The yellow and gold sandstone is from a seashore and delta that eventually became a source for coal and natural gas.

The soft purple, green, and red beds are from the Jurassic Period of tropical forests and dinosaurs.

Ancient tidal flats deposited the thin red layers.

The area we are viewing is built upon the beige-green deposits from an ancient Jurassic sea.

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Before we reach Colorado, we pass through the canyons of Green River, Utah.

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Twenty-five miles into Colorado, we spend the night in Grand Junction.

NV, AZ, and UT

image Interstate 15

Our route to Jernigan Land in Denver, CO takes us northeast from Las Vegas. We snip across the southeast portion of Nevada and cut through 29 miles of northwest Arizona.

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As we enter the tiny corner of Arizona the scenery becomes more dramatic as we travel through the town of Littlefield on Interstate 15 as the highway cuts through the Virgin River Gorge.

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img_4819 bestplaces.net

Ten miles northeast of Mesquite, Nevada, Littlefield sits west of the Virgin River and northwest of the Grand Canyon. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

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Littlefield and nearby Beaver Dam are isolated by hundreds of miles from the rest of Arizona and are the only 2 towns off this stretch of I-15 in Arizona. (en.m.wikipedia.org)


We cross into Utah passing through St. George and the outskirts of Dixie National Forest and Zion National Park

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before arriving at an RV Park in Beaver, Utah where we spend the night.

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Passing Through…

image Las Vegas

With Death Valley behind us, we head to Jernigan Land in Colorado.

The Las Vegas strip is on the other side of the freeway.

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Mandalay Bay

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Luxor

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Excalibur

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Bellagio

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Caesar’s Palace

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Treasure Island

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Harrah’s and the High Roller ferris wheel

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Treasure Island and Encore Hotel coming into view

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Trump Hotel and Encore Hotel

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Circus Circus

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Dante’s View

image A Dramatic Drop-off

Dante’s  View is an overlook terrace near the edge of the Black Mountains, 26 miles away from our campground in Furnace Creek.

We travel 13 miles southeast on 190 and take a side road southwest for another 13 miles.

You can see part of this spur road in the picture below on the far left.

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The drive is a subtle climb until the last 5.5 miles which becomes extremely steep and winding, especially near the end, rising from 3,000 feet and dead ending in the parking area at 5,450 feet. (backroadswest.com)

img_4774 americansouthwest.net

Dante’s View overlooks the salt flats of Badwater Basin which are bordered by the Paramint Mountains to the west.

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A dramatic juxtaposition of nature is visible here, but not to the naked eye, unfortunately. In the distance, about 85 horizontal miles away, Mt. Whitney stands 14, 496 feet tall, the highest point in the 48 contiguous states of the U. S.. Two miles below, lies the lowest point at 282 feet below sea level. (backroadswest.com)

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To the southeast the road winds along the valley of the Greenwater Range.

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To the east the Funeral Mountain Range borders the desert.

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Clouds and time of day create beautiful photographic opportunities. Sunset is breathtaking here.

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If some of these views look vaguely familiar to you, they should if you are a Star Wars aficionado. Star Wars Episode IV… A New Hope used Dante’s View for the 1977 movie location for the fictional desert planet, Tatooine and the spaceport of Mos Eisley, which Obi-Wan Kenobi describes as, ” a wretched hive of scum and villainy.” (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke, and the droids get out of the landspeeder to take a look at Mos Eisley below, where they are headed. This scene from the movie is not taken from Dante’s View.

img_4776 panamintcity.com

But what the characters are looking at are the salt flats and basin from Dante’s View. To create Mos Eisley a matte painting is added to the natural scene. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Look closely to see the real Panamint Mountains in the background.

img_4777 starwars.wikia.com

Checkout Steve Hall’s Death Valley Adventures, Star Wars in Death Valley to find out more about the 6 areas where 9 filming locations took place.

img_4778 panamintcity.com

Artist Drive

image A Palette of Color

Heading back to the main highway we take a 9 mile detour through Artist Drive’s one-way scenic loop.

Somehow I catch a prism from the sun creating a colorful line in the picture, an appropriate preview of what’s ahead.

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The repeated volcanic eruptions from millions of years ago deposited a blanket of ash and minerals. Heat and water altered the minerals leaving behind the psychedelic swirls of color on these hills. (plaque at site)

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Time of day and clouds shift the intensity of color, as does the angle that captures the view. Since I only have my iPad to rely on, I am editing my pictures to a larger size, hoping that you can get a better sense of these colorful hues.

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There’s a trail leading up the hills in the foreground so we stop and take pictures on top. The salt flats are behind us.

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We head back down to the road.

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The drive itself offers beautiful views of a surreal landscape.

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Chemists have identified a paint pot of elements in these rocks, including iron, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium. (plaque at site)

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The green splashes above are deposits of green chlorite, not copper. The pink shades are red hematite. (plaque at site)

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My favorite color is the pop of green viewed from afar.

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Unfortunately it loses its luster close-up and appears more grayish.

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Salt Flats

image Badwater Basin

Seventeen miles off Highway190, that winds through Death Valley, the desert road leads

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to the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

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Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level.

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Looking up at the Black Mountains to the east there is a sign that marks sea level, the average elevation of the world’s ocean surface and the standard by which all other elevations are measured. (plaque at site)

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Now that you have a reference point, can you spot the sea level sign?

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Here’s another perspective… We are out on the salt flats looking toward the mountains towering above other amazed tourists.

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I look up and imagine myself walking on the bottom of what was once an ocean and feel claustrophobic. But then I find out that there never was an ocean here.

We are actually standing between the edges of 2 fault blocks that keep pushing upward the Black Mountains to the east and the Panamint Mountains to the west. Meanwhile parallel fault lines fracture the earth’s crust below continually spreading the basin floor apart and pushing it lower. (plaque at site)

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Earthquakes, fault lines, erosion, and a dry climate are responsible for the drop in sea level and the birth of Death Valley. Rain washes sand, silt, gravel, and salt down into the basin creating temporary lakes that have no where to go. The faults in the earth’s crust are also eroding, and at a much faster pace than the surrounding cliffs. The basin, therefore, drops quicker than it can fill with eroded debris.

The temporary lakes evaporate and leave behind the salt flats we are walking upon. (plaque at site)

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Salt crystals expand into a crust and push upward to create erratic patterns of white veins. (plaque at site)

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But why the name, Badwater?

The pool of water below is spring-fed.

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When surveyors were originally mapping this area, they brought their mules here to drink the water. But the mules refused to drink. On their maps surveyors jotted down “bad water” and eventually the name stuck. The water wasn’t poisonous, just salty! (plaque at site)


One Last Interesting Factoid:

  • Ancient water fills the basin pool today. Most of it began as Ice Age snow from mountains in central Nevada. The runoff seeped into porous limestone bedrock and began a long underground flow emerging here along a fault line at the base of the Black Mountains. (plaque at site)

Sunrise

image Zabriskie Point

We get up early so that we can catch the sunrise and arrive here by 6:15 AM.

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Already there are clusters of people gathered on this elevated overlook along the stone ledge.

img_4702 americansouthwest.net

As I walk around wedging myself in to take a picture and read the info on the plaques, I discover we are surrounded by visitors from other countries. I mean, no one around me is speaking English! But we all share the language of awe as we watch the maze of badlands before us reflect the sun rising behind us.


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The plaque at Zabriskie Point describes these magnificent rock formations as otherworldly badlands.

According to worldlandforms.com, badlands are beautifully carved landforms that are barren, battered and eroded by water and shaped with the help of wearing and wind-driven sand and rain.

Clay, sandstone, and siltstone comprise the rock formations before us. Several million years ago lakes filled the valley below. Earthquakes washed silt and volcanic ash into the water creating thick deposits.  Volcanoes oozed a dark layer of lava  into the lakebeds and the hot water that followed the eruptions washed down colorful striations of minerals. More seismic activity uplifted and folded the layers of sediment.  Rain then eroded and sculpted the formations into the chaotic and beautiful landforms we see today. (plaque at Zabriskie Point)


So, who is Zabriskie?

img_4768 nps.gov

Christian B. Zabriskie was VP and General Manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company from 1897 until he retired in 1933. (nps.gov)

BORAX?

I’m “young” enough to remember the commercials

img_4769 20muleteamlaundry.com

and the TV show, Death Valley Days.

img_4771 en.m.wikipedia.org

Borax is a mineral found in the lakebed deposits of Death Valley, a combination of colemanite and uluxite, and discovered to be worth mining in 1882. For 6 years 20-mule-team wagons actually did haul the borax out of Death Valley and the name stuck. (plaque at Zabriskie Point)

img_4773 SCVHistory.com

Unfortunately the mining process left a devastating impact on the natural landscape.

img_4772 nps.gov

Early environmentalists successfully protested the effects of borax mining in the 1920s. Under the direction of Zabriskie, the company invested in tourism on their property by opening Furnace Creek Inn in 1927. In order to attract visitors to the Inn, preserving the natural landscape of the desert became a priority. In 1933 all mining ceased and Death Valley became a National Monument and in 1994, a National Park. Zabriskie is credited for this transition from mining to natural wonder. (plaque at Zabriskie Point)

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Desert

image Death Valley

I don’t know what to expect as we arrive except for temperatures of over 100 degrees.

And yes, it is HOT and it’s hot! It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I am waiting for Pink Floyd to start blasting songs from outer space.

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Here’s where we are spending the next 2 nights… Furnace Creek Campground. We unhitch the car, park the RV, and hook up to water, sewer, and electric. What’s the first thing we do after? Turn on our 2 air conditioners!

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Just outside of the campground, Highway 190 continues offering views like the ones I capture below.

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We pass the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and then check out Furnace Creek Ranch where there is lodging, restaurants, gasoline, and propane. Guests can also picnic, tent camp, hook up RVs, and walk the Harmony Borax Interpretive Trail.

The temperature gauge catches our attention. What? It’s still over 100 degrees and the sun is getting ready to set!

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HOW DEATH VALLEY GOT ITS NAME

In January 1848 gold was discovered in the South Fork of the American River in Coloma, California while James W. Marshall was building a saw mill for Captain John Sutter. (coloma.com)

img_4692 dailymail.co.uk

img_4695 conservation.ca.gov

Although it was supposed to be kept a secret, word got out and the California Gold Rush of 1849 began. (coloma.com)

In October 1849 a group of wagons from the San Joaquin Company were faced with having to wait out the winter in Salt Lake City. (Salt Lake City was an important supply station for the ’49ers traveling to Sutter’s Mill in preparation for the long journey across the Great Basin Desert and through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.) Snow would make the mountains impassable. (nps.gov)

img_4693 in-the-desert.com

But then the travelers heard about the Old Spanish Trail. The good news was that this route went around the southern end of the Sierra Nevada making a winter trek possible. The bad news was twofold: 1.)No other wagon trains had ever traversed this trail before. 2.)Only 1 person in Salt Lake City knew the way. (nps.gov)

img_4700 holidaymapq.com

img_4701 irwinator.com

Captain Jefferson Hunt agreed to lead the group but he would only travel as fast as the slowest wagon. (nps.gov)

img_4697 californiapioneer.org

The slow pace frustrated some members of the group so they decided to try a shortcut pass across the desert that would cut off 500 miles of their journey and they could travel at their own pace. Upon encountering a gaping canyon, however, most of these wagons turned back to rejoin Captain Hunt’s posse.

Meanwhile, 20 wagons tediously circumvented the canyon. Without a reliable leader or the benefit of a map, these ’49ers held steadfast to their belief that if they continued west they would eventually find this so-called shortcut pass.

Eventually arguments arose over which way to continue so the group split up, some going south and the rest continuing west. Ironically both groups ended up in the same place. Today that junction just happens to be around Furnace Creek along Highway 190 where we are staying. (nps.gov)

img_4699 Death Valley Visitor Guide

By now it had been 2 months since these “lost ’49ers” had left the Old Spanish Trail. They were tired and discouraged. Their wagons were battered and the oxen were weary. They looked up and saw the Panamint Mountains enveloping them and felt defeated.

Once again the group split up. One group, deciding to walk north, slaughtered some oxen and used wagons as fuel to make jerky. This group found a pass to cross the mountains and headed south to civilization.

Meanwhile, the remaining group tried crossing the  mountains via a different route and unsuccessfully ended heading back into the desert valley. Mistaking the Panamint Mountains for the Sierra Nevada, the party sent 2 scouts across the mountains to replenish supplies, expecting a speedy return. A month went by, however, before the 2 returned after hiking more than 300 miles.

Several of the waiting families left to find their own way out. Two families, however, waited it out, suffering the loss of one person. As they made their way west, upon the return of the scouts, someone proclaimed, “Goodbye, Death Valley!”

It took the group another 23 days to cross the Mojave Desert and reach civilization, 4 long months after leaving Captain Hunt on the Old Spanish Trail. (nps.gov)