|The Panamint Mountains and Telescope Peak, the highest part of Death Valley National Park, as seen from Dante's View..|
Hot temperatures are an interesting feature of Death Valley National Park, but the park is much more significant for other reasons. It contains a wider range and variety of rocks than any other park that I know of. I have been chronicling our February journey to Death Valley over the last few months in a series called "Out of the Valley of Death", and today's post is a confluence of the two series that I've been working on. Dante's View was our next stop after exploring the interior of an upside-down mountain at Titus Canyon, and it makes number three on my list of the Ten Most Incredible Places I've Ever Stood.
The Black Mountains of Death Valley are one of the most rugged mountain ranges in existence. They rise 6,000 feet almost straight up from the lowest part of the Death Valley graben and are practically devoid of trails or roads. The thought of climbing the mountain front near Badwater is as daunting a challenge as I can imagine. The Proterozoic metamorphic rocks are highly deformed and internally sheared by intense faulting, making for a highly unstable climbing surface. But there is a way to the top of the range. A paved highway winds up the other more gentle eastern side of the mountain range, reaching Dante's View at an elevation of 5,476 ft (1,669 m). The overlook is directly above Badwater, more than a mile below at -282 feet ( -86 m). It has one of the most incredible views to be found in any national park.
Frank DeCourten called the Basin and Range province where Death Valley is located the "Broken Land", and the description is apt. From Dante's View, thousands of square miles of land are visible as range after range marches off into the distance. In the last few million years crust in this region was stretched beyond the breaking point, and it broke into countless grabens (fault valleys) and horsts (fault-block mountain ranges). River drainages that once reached the sea do so no longer, and water leaves the region only by evaporation. The region is sometimes called the "Great Basin" despite the multitude of mountain ranges. Death Valley is the lowest of the low, the ending point of numerous desert washes and the Amargosa "River" that sometimes in wet years has water.
At Dante's View, one's attention is most often drawn towards the salt pan of Death Valley, the lowest land in North America (in the picture above). It is quite a sight, and so alien-looking that it stood in as the location of Mos Eisely in the original Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker stood here, looking at the spaceport and mentioning that "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy". The salt that covers the valley floor to a depth of hundreds of feet was washed out of the marine sediments that make up many of the mountains in the region, and from the rain itself. Water flows into the salt pan and evaporates, leaving behind the salt and other minerals, including gypsum and calcite.
Water still accumulates in the Death Valley graben on occasion. Lakes were there in 2005 and 2010, but the same wet weather that filled the salt pan with water also wreaked havoc with the road to Dante's View and it was closed, so I have no pictures of the lake from above. This one from the valley floor will have to do.
Some of my choices for the "ten most incredible places" involved lava, or fossils, or significant historical and geological events. I chose Dante's View for sheer grandeur. From the high vantage point of Dante's, one gets a sense of being on top of the world, a world that is sometimes an inferno, and certainly broken up. There are few places on Earth like it.