Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Death Valley Hiking

Yes, you've read it correctly: Death Valley HIKING it is. Although most people I know do not usually associate Death Valley with hiking, this huge and quite remote desert area offers plenty of hiking and backpacking. In winter, though. Temperatures make actually very nice hiking weather in December, with days around 10 to 18 degrees and nights slightly above freezing. If the sun is out, it might get a little warmer, but the mercury never rose above 22 degrees when I was there. However, with the sun being quite intense, it can feel a lot hotter than this. I'm definitely not the one who would spend there a lot of time in summer!

The possibilities for explorations, hikes and backpacks in "the Valley" are endless and even after spending there a full week, I can think of plenty things that I still would like to do should I return. First of all: the Death Valley is not the boring, flat desert you might imagine. Well, the valley floor is indeed quite flat, but the landscape is still changing: there are sand dunes, and salt flats and strange yellowish hills and some almost surreal parts at the valley floor boarder next to Zabriski Point, with naked hills in all colors you can imagine: from green to white to deep purple, and all kinds of red and yellow and everything in between. The most accessible of this colored hill areas is called "Artist's Palette" - the name says it all. Then you have of course Bad Water Basin, the lowest point of continental North America, with an elevation of 86 meters below sea level. There's the famous Racetrack with its wandering rocks (whose mystery has just recently been linked to drifting thin ice sheets in winter), Ubehebe Crater, Scotty's Castle and the Harmony Borax Works just to name a few. And then the Panamint Range that, together with the icy peaks of the Sierra, provides a rain barrier for Death Valley in the west, as well as the Amargosa Range on the eastern side. With the highest Peak in the Valley, Telescope Peak, you can even do some proper mountain hiking in the desert - and in winter, although not being a technical climb, it would at least require crampons and maybe an ice tool to summit this peak with its 3366 meters - remember, you're looking down to minus 86 meters then... awesome, isn't it?

What I liked most it the ever-changing light. No hour is the same. And surprisingly, I even had a lot of rain in the valley, especially on my first day it really soaked me and my tent that I thought it will never dry again. Most roads were flooded, canyons impassable because of flash flood danger and even a lot of roads had to be closed.

But you're not here for reading, and I am not a writer but a photographer. So dive into the photographs, try to imagine the sweet Juniper scents of the desert and hear no sound at all. There's some wind in the canyons, but it may be absolutely quiet in the vastness of the desert floor...

Those Colors!

Moonrise over the Valley floor.

Sunset at Dante's View.

Ubehebe Crater.

The Badlands.

Watch out for sidewinders in the sand dunes.

There are also plenty of mining relicts and ghost towns...

...and canyons. Hundreds of smaller and larger canyons to explore. Just be aware of flash floods and again do not step on rattlesnakes.

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