I’m standing on the salt flat in Badwater Basin, looking out at the expanse of crusty white salt before me. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. It’s a popular spot in Death Valley National Park and my second stop for the day. Originally the site of Lake Manly, which dried up thousands of years ago, sediment at Badwater Basin continues to accumulate due to groundwater that rises up to the surface and evaporates, leaving behind these salty ridges. So far, Death Valley is proving to be more interesting and far more beautiful than I ever imagined. I never thought a place would make me want to learn more about rocks of all things but this place does.
I came to the park because after talking about our Valley of Fire & Death Valley tour with Bicycle Adventures guests for 2 years I thought I should see firsthand what all the fuss is about. What I know as I head into the park is that the name “Death Valley” isn’t as ominous as it sounds (the name came from a group who thought they might die but no one did), it’s hot as hades, and there are a lot of rocks….how cool could it be? Pretty darn cool as it turns out.
The salt flat stretches out as far as I can see and I wonder how long it would take to walk across the valley to the other side. The patterns the salt make are amazing – up close they look like miniature versions of the mountains that surround me. The thing that really strikes me though, is the silence. I look behind me – I’m now a solid ½ mile out (yes, I GPS’d it) but I can still see people in the parking lot. I see everyone getting in and out of cars, walking around, and wrangling children, but I can’t hear a thing from them. It’s eerie but also wonderful. If there wasn’t the possibility of scaring someone else who walks out this far, I might take advantage of the silence by laying down for a nap.
Instead, I stay standing as I close my eyes and turn my face to the sun. It’s the beginning of April and close to 90 degrees out and the hot rays feel good on my skin. I’m soaking it in as much as I can before I get back to the rainy Pacific Northwest. I hear something then, a whispering that is getting louder. I open my eyes and see a crow flying toward me. I am mesmerized by the sound of its wings cutting through the still air and for a moment I feel like we are the only two creatures on the Earth. I watch it as it soars past me and away, on to other adventures.
I turn and head back to the parking lot to move on with my adventure as well. I stop at Artist’s Point next, which, true to its name is a colorful palette created by different minerals in the rocks. Varying shades of brown are shot through with beautiful coppers, greens, whites, yellows, and reds. It’s gorgeous and I wish I had time to catch it at sunset.
I continue driving through the park, past the Oasis hotel, where we stay on our tour and which looks like a truly lovely spot to rest your feet after a day of riding. My next stop is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. After all the rocks, I feel surprised to see this expanse of sand before me. I slip and slide my way to the top of one of the dunes and take a seat. Though not as quiet as the salt flat it’s still a peaceful spot to reflect.
I finish out the day by driving up and out of the canyon to the California side, stopping at Father Crowley Overlook for one last panoramic view over the park before heading back into civilization. It’s been a great day, though I wish I had had the chance to ride my bike here. Discovering a place by bike combines the intimacy you feel with the landscape when you hike with the ability to cover a lot of distance and see a lot of things when you drive. It’s the best of both worlds in my humble opinion. I can see why this tour is so popular and as the sun starts to set I drive away, already looking forward to coming back someday to explore more.
Interested in learning more about our Valley of Fire & Death Valley tour? Find all the details and available dates here.