Crossing tümpisa

Travel 20/10/2012:  Lone Pine, CA – Death Valley – Pahrump, NV

Saturday’s travel involved 167 mile from Lone Pine, CA crossing Death Valley National Park and on to Pahrump, NV. Pookaverse is well aware of the reputation that this place has earned with the highest recorded world temperature of 134 °F (56.7 °C) at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. This is a unique micro-climate – with precipitation of less than 2′ per year – the cause of which is down to a range of factors.

In their fabulous ‘Maid of the Mist’ fatigues from Niagara Falls, the lovely ‘Blue Wonderfuls’ take to the floor for a second time to dance in the face of death.

Including (as we learnt from the velvetine gravitas of Donald Sutherland in the National Park lecture theatre at Furnace Creek): the presence of large mountain ranges drawn up by the  Death Valley Fault and the Furnace Creek Fault; its geological characteristic of being part of a natural basin containing many salt pans from the evaporated inland seas that once covered this area in the  Pleistocene era; the lowest position below sea level at one point (Badwater Basin) of -282 feet that places the region at a lower altitude and thus a higher atmospheric pressure above it;  hot wind currents that are created and essentially trapped in the valley creating the effect of a super-heated convection oven.

There are more facts available about the history of this place online that are more interesting when read than paraphrased.

Looking back at the road (extreme left) across the formidable Panamint Valley…not even at Death Valley yet…

Only 26 miles from Lone Pine, just North-East of the China Lake Naval Weapons site the change in the air is palpable. Throat’s run dry as the landscape on the winding descent to Panamint Valley on the 190 is strangely green with many Joshua Tree’s in various stages of development patrol the landscape.

The first descent to the ‘unnaturally’ flat Panamint Valley is a test of nerves and endurance as the road tries to make sense of the landscape.

The oft-trodden, foot-sodden highway extending at least 1/4 mile into Badwater Basin, Death Valley, CA

After a drive of nearly 80 miles from Lone Pine you encounter your first un-civilisation at Stovepipe Wells. With a section of laborious gift ‘rock and mineral’ shops and an even more laboriously-priced general store .

Pookaverse noted that the ‘chugs’ from the 3 one-gallon water plastic demi-johns were becoming more frequent.

The hoom members of Pookaverse keep cool on the oven floor of Badwater Basin, Death Valley by doing what a Lizard would do…if it was stupid enough to live here in the first place

After visiting Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes only a mile or so away on the road, a ‘chug-pact’ was made:  Drink each time you get out of the car and drink each time you get back into the car. This seemed to work well and the mild headaches began to ease even though the temperature continued to rise.

You are never really aware of how quickly you can become dehydrated when heat and salt air glare at one another below sea-level.

At Furnace Creek, the National Park Visitor Centre recorded a temperature of 38.5 degrees at 2pm in the afternoon. During lunch Pookaverse observed another in a very long line of very loud and annoying tide of Japaneses tourists (it is like the rest of the world doesn’t exist) and a spectacular display of temper from a tall German gentleman in the car park berating another member of his six-strong crew.

One of those hateful images that forces you to laugh politely at dinner parties, soirees etc thereby exorcising group discomfort…3.29pm in Death Valley, CA

It started with a forceful hand-gesture towards the passenger seat of the ginormous SUV they were travelling with and ended with a Wagnerian roar of rage, a square storming off back to the visitor centre while tossing a gallon bottle of water high into the air – burst on impact. All splendid. Nothing like a family row on holiday. Jam sandwiches. Jumpers for goal posts (sigh)….

From Furnace Creek to Badwater and its position as the lowest point in the US. The temperature felt higher and the ground once brown and crusted coral smoothed over to a white highway by the footfall of visitors. As Pookaverse walked out into the baking emptiness, a blue sign casually marks “Sea-Level” on the cliffs overlooking this simmering plane.

The eponymous Zabriskie Point Death Valley, CA

After visiting the Devil’s Golf Course and Natural Bridge Canyon, Pookaverse made its way out Death Valley on the 190 to Pahrump, NV. With one last stop in the late afternoon sunshine at  Zabriskie Point.

Named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie the former vice president of Pacific Coast Borax Company who contributed significantly to the conservation and protection of this area when Borax extraction became unprofitable in this area.

Pookaverse became aware of this place through a rare DVD recording of Michelangelo Antonioni’s  titular Zabriskie Point (1970) about 6 years ago. While not really accessible nor engrossing. Dated and for the most part pretentious, it is worth a watch for two reasons.

Firstly for the excellent cinematography which transforms these landscapes as a backdrop for the emotional wilderness of the central characters. Secondly, for the soulful performance of Mark Freschette who less than five years later died or was killed in prison – depending on which version of his demise you believe.

There is no denying the mild sense of relief when leaving this place – neither indigenous, having no time to adapt.  Death Valley is a fearsome geological menagerie. However it is also a place of  quite ethereal beauty. It is also a lasting memory for Pookaverse and has been one of the highlights of this journey despite being at the lowest point, topographically speaking, on the map.

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One Response to “Crossing tümpisa”

  1. Thompson Says:

    What an astonishing looking place. Thanks for the wonderful pictures. Zabriskie Point (which I’d never heard of) looks more other-worldly than the images that Curiousity is sending back from Mars.

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