Furnace Creek Campground NPS, Death Valley, California

Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska. It doesn’t seem that way to the casual visitor, since over 90% of the park is wilderness. Despite the name, portions of the park are quite mountainous, with the highest point, Telescope Peak, at over 11,000 feet.

Wilderness/Non-Wilderness Areas
Wilderness/Non-Wilderness Areas

We entered the park at Death Valley Junction and drove to the visitor center at Furnace Creek. The scenery is spectacular. On the way, we dropped in elevation from about 3000 feet to -190 feet. The whole area has an other-world like feel. In fact, parts of Tatooine (see: Star Wars) were filmed here.

About Half Way Between Death Valley Junction and Furnace Creek
About Half Way Between Death Valley Junction and Furnace Creek

 

Yes, The Photo is Level!
Yes, The Photo is Level!

 

Beginning the Descent Into Furnace Creek
Beginning the Descent Into Furnace Creek

 

Farther Down
Farther Down

 

Finally Made It!
Finally Made It!

 

Vast Salt Flats Just South of Furnace Creek
Vast Salt Flats Just South of Furnace Creek

After securing a campsite, we decided to drive to Badwater Basin. On the way, we turned off at Artists Drive to view the colorful hills. The road is restricted to vehicles no longer than 25 feet. It featured lots of tight turns around the hills and two hair raising dips at canyons. It’s a good thing the speed limit is 25 mph!

The formation called Artists Palette is the most colorful spot.

First Overlook on Artists Drive
First Overlook on Artists Drive

 

Looking Back Down (Birdcage in Front)
Looking Back Down (Birdcage in Front)

 

Mineral Deposits in the Rock
Mineral Deposits in the Rock

 

This Dip is About Thirty Feet Deep
This Dip is About Thirty Feet Deep

 

Artists Pallate
Artists Palette

 

More Colors
More Colors

 

Intense Green
Intense Green

 

Salt Flats at the End of Artists Drive
Salt Flats at the End of Artists Drive

Much of the valley appears to be a salt flat. Badwater basin, the lowest spot in North America at -282 feet, was our next stop. The ground is damp and the salt forms large shapes on the surface. There is a lake at the bottom of the basin, slowly evaporating. Lore is that the name was bestowed by a prospector who couldn’t get his mule to drink the water. The park has posted a sign at sea level to give tourists a better sense of the depth.

The Lowest Point in North America
The Lowest Point in North America

 

Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin

 

Close-up of Salt
Close-up of Salt

 

There's a Salt Water Lake About a Mile Out
There’s a Salt Water Lake About a Mile Out

 

Your Tour Guide
Your Tour Guide

 

Sea Level is Marked by a Sign
Sea Level is Marked by a Sign

 

Rubble Field North of Badwater
Rubble Field North of Badwater

We returned to the campground and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately the combination of clouds and an almost full moon made for poor stargazing.

Sunset in the Campground at 190 Feet Below Sea Level
Sunset in the Campground at 190 Feet Below Sea Level

The next morning, we walked from the campground to Harmony Borax Works. Despite the many prospectors looking for gold and silver, the real riches were obtained from borax, which the locals called “white gold”. Mule teams hauled trains of borax wagons and water tanks to the rail depot at Mojave, CA, thus the advertising slogan for “20 mule team borax”. Each wagon weighed 7800 pounds and carried 20,000 pounds of borax. The tanks held 1200 gallons of drinking water for the mules.

One Mule Team Borax Train at Harmony Borax Works
One Mule Team Borax Train at Harmony Borax Works

Yellow borate deposits in the hills were washed down onto the surface of the basin by heavy rains. Chinese were hired at very low wages to shovel the surface borax into wagons, which were taken to the works. Because of the transportation difficulties, borax was processed and purified at the site. The material was placed in tanks, and hot water was added to dissolve the borax. The hot water was then pumped into crystallizing tanks, where the borax settled out of solution. The works shut down in the summer, because it was too hot to allow the borax to crystallize. Even in winter, cooling blankets were wrapped around the tanks and kept moist to allow evaporative cooling. The Chinese laborers lived in adobe block buildings at the site.

Boiling Tank & Settling Tank
Boiling Tank & Settling Tank

 

Boiler & Borax Wagons
Boiler & Borax Wagons

 

Borax Wagons & Workers Housing (Background)
Borax Wagons & Workers Housing (Background)

We enjoyed the scenery and the history of Death Valley. We’ll be back after Scotty’s Castle is reopened.

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