Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lowest Point in North America

Badwater Basin

Temperatures dropped in the early morning and cooled things off enough to encourage us to drive to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level according to the sign, but Ranger Bob said it's now lower at "284 feet below".  Good enough for me! Visitors from all over the world joined us at the site, walking and gawking and clicking cameras to record this auspicious moment. I looked down and then up. OK! Where is Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental USA?  Couldn't see it but I heard there was an ultramarathon in a few months that goes from this very site to the trailhead of Whitney Portal (8360 feet).  It's described as the toughest race in the world with a 13,000 foot cumulative elevation gain.  And...get this. It's in mid-July when the temperatures are hottest all around.  How hot?  120 degrees and up.  That  adds up to about 157 miles on land with a course that has to go around lots and lots of natural obstacles, like salt beds, steep canyons, sand dunes, rattlesnakes, gold mines, and then bears as you get to the mountains. Just kidding. Or, am I? Originally it went all the way up to the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet above sea level.  But lots of regulations changed this event when the National Forest Service required permits to hike to the summit.  I did it over 30 years ago and it took me at least three days for the round trip from...no! not Badwater Basin...but from Whitney Portal.  Thank God I did it then!  

The lowest point in North America at 284 feet below sea level

Visitors from all over the world joined us at the lowest point in North America

Artist Drive

We then slowly drove in the direction back to Furnace Creek to take-in the majestic Artist Drive.
Turning to the right, away from the salt flats to the Black Mountains, we took a one way surfaced road that meandered through a series of volcanic rock layers painted in reds, purples, pinks,orange, yellow, browns, blacks, and whites...with all kinds of related hues and colors in-between.  A natural palette that is stunning to the eye.  Lots of places to walk and get out of the car for more detailed observations while being on the lookout for rattlesnakes and other creatures I have no wish to discover at 100 degrees.  This rock formation is actually called the Artist Formation dating back to the Miocene about 10,000 years ago during a particularly violent and explosive period of volcanic action.  The colors are due to "chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration", especially the rocks that contain iron (hematite) as they tend to oxidize and yield the rusts and reds and browns and greens.  OK! I confess. My first college degree was in geology.  But the guidebook helps with the description.

A stunning panorama through the Black Mountains and the Artist Drive

The Inn at Furnace Creek

It was time to return to the cooler climes in such places as the Inn at Furnace Creek for a gin tonic to celebrate the fact that we are still alive and didn't fall down a crater to the center of the earth or get bitten by a giant rattlesnake or get eaten by a saber tooth tiger lurking around from the Pliocene.
In rather British fashion, we retreated to the deck overlooking the valley with a six dollar gin tonic in hand to toast each other for a good day's work done.  Of course, we will retreat to our RV domain at some later point, but in this air conditioned affluence, we enjoyed every minute of it.  The rooms here, for the rich and famous, start at $340 plus taxes and other fees, to $480 for a suite.  

The lovely Inn at Furnace Creek for those who prefer a bit of luxury in the desert


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