Spring Equinox at Death Valley 2017

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The First Day of Spring in Death Valley – “97ºF and getting hotter!”

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Every year, my best friend and I would get together and go on an epic photo venture, but due to extremely difficult times, 15 months had managed to pass since we last traveled together and so we both decided to put a stop to this no matter what. One day before the Spring Equinox of 2017, I picked up the lovely Miss Julia Starr at McCarran International Airport in Vegas. We were both extremely excited to see each other again and made the preparations for the days to follow. We set off on the morning of Monday, March 20th. We voyaged westbound on route 160 through the city of Pahrump and on through the Nevada/California state line.

“Now entering one of my favorite counties in California via State Route 178.”

“The drive to Death Valley can often times be a treat in itself.”

“There were plenty of photo opportunities which had me pulling over quite frequently.”

“This mountain’s geological composition was too remarkable to ignore.”

“After cruising State Route 178, we hit the 190 junction into Death Valley.”

“As we got near our first official stop, we pulled over a few more times to get various images.”

“Curious mud and sandstone formations lined the edges of a wash near the highway.”

“Just down the road a few miles, Zabriskie Point awaits us.”

Zabriskie Point

GPS Coordinates: 36.4206442° N, 116.8139224° W

Zabriskie Point is a part of Amargosa Range located east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park in California, United States noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago, long before Death Valley came into existence. The location was named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company’s twenty-mule teams were used to transport borax from its mining operations in Death Valley. (Source: Wikipedia)

“The views from here were pretty vast. In the distance is the snow capped crown of Telescope Peak.”

“My travel companion was certainly having a great time despite the heat wave.”

“The areas that make up the surroundings of Zabriskie Point are known as the Death Valley Badlands.”

“Julia snapped a sweet shot for me.”

“Facing west from Zabriskie Point reveals the great Amargosa Mountain Range in the distance.”

Furnace Creek Visitor Center

GPS Coordinates: 36.4617546° N, 116.8666118° W

After getting a nice subtle sunburn at Zabriskie Point, it was time for Julia and I to head to Furnace Springs and find a nice shady place to park so we could eat our lunch. The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is pretty neat. Inside they have a very cool topographical model of the park, along with learning exhibits, information booths, park pass sales, and of course a souvenir shop. I purchased another National Parks Pass for the next 365 days which at $80 bucks is totally worth the price when you visit National Parks as much as I do. (In SoCal, the pass also doubles as an Adventure Pass, further adding to the savings.

The visitor center sits at about 190 ft (58 m) below sea level, so it gets plenty hot there and for the 2017 Spring Equinox, we were getting temperatures around at 97ºF (36º C) by noon. It was time to find some shade and grab a bite to eat.

“Furnace Creek Visitor Center, a great place to freshen up and get informed.”

“Just $80 bucks gets you into all National Parks for a whole year!”

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

GPS Coordinates: 36.6151258° N, 117.1153384° W

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are at the northern end of the valley floor and are nearly surrounded by mountains on all sides. Due to their easy access from the road and the overall proximity of Death Valley to Hollywood, these dunes have been used to film sand dune scenes for several movies including films in the Star Wars series. The largest dune is called Star Dune and is relatively stable and stationary because it is at a point where the various winds that shape the dunes converge. The depth of the sand at its crest is 130–140 feet (40 – 43 m) but this is small compared to other dunes in the area that have sand depths of up to 600–700 feet (180–210 m) deep.

The primary source of the dune sands is probably the Cottonwood Mountains which lie to the north and northwest. The tiny grains of quartz and feldspar that form the sinuous sculptures that make up this dune field began as much larger pieces of solid rock.

In between many of the dunes are stands of creosote bush and some mesquite on the sand and on dried mud, which used to cover this part of the valley before the dunes intruded (mesquite was the dominant plant here before the sand dunes but creosote does much better in the sand dune conditions). (Source: Wikipedia)

“The wind was blowing very hard that day which produced some rather interesting views.”

“This is the first time I have seen a sign like this here, but it’s not bluffing.”

“This was Julia’s first time at the sand dunes here in Death Valley.”

“Near the highway lat the gnarled remains if many dead trees like this one below.”

“Getting a clean pic of the sand dunes sans footprints requires a bit of a hike into the deeper regions.”

Father Crowley Overlook

GPS Coordinates: 36.3518679° N, 117.5529223° W

Father Crowley Overlook is an amazing location for catching some massive views of the Northern regions of the Panamint Valley below. The rift that carves its way below the overlook is called Rainbow Canyon because of the somewhat colorful tones of rock along the cliff faces, however it has also been referred to as “Star Wars Canyon”due to military fighter craft running low altitude maneuvers through the chasm. If you are lucky enough to pull up as the fighter jets are flying by like we did, you’ll be treated to a mini airshow, but most times, you’ll just have to be patient and wait for the jets to make their run through the canyon.

“A few patrons of aviation wait patiently for some passing jet fighters at the edge of the overlook.”

“With low altitude military flights going on throughout the park, it makes sense that they would ban drones here.”

“Julia gets a smashing good pic at the overlook by yours truly. She’s so photogenic”

“We arrived just in time to catch two F18 Super Hornets as they buzzed the canyon.”

“I waited patiently to see if the jets would come back, but we decided to split with what little light of the day we had left.”

“The view of Telescope Peak’s western slopes from the top of Father Crowley Overlook is pretty amazing.”

“The mighty Eastern Sierra Nevada range comes into view along State Route 190 into the Owens Valley. “

We finally split away from State Route 190 and onto route 136 toward Lone Pine, CA. This short highway would have us coasting along the eastern shores of Owens Lake which is mostly dry nowadays. Owens Lake is notorious for being the number one polluter of air quality in the united states because of it’s massive dust bowl- like expanse. This area is prone to high winds and so it can get extremely dusty. It was not too terrible as the dust was further west of us so Julia asked me pull over and take a small hike for some photo ops.

“With the Starship docked on the side of the highway, we set off to look for some photo ops.”

“Julia had the 200 so she was grabbing some great shots of the distant dust storms.”

“The clouds were transforming into what appeared to be the start of some rare Asperatus Undulatus formations.”

“Naturally I was having a great time with my favorite travel companion doing my favorite thing.”

“There were small areas of fine sand that has accumulated from the high winds here.”

“We trekked around the sandy areas and noticed Mt. Whitney in the background.”

“Julia was styling her sweet, new raspberry Merrell’s on this trip.”

“Seeing rippled sand dunes with the mighty Sierras in the background was an odd, but amazing sight!”

Julia and I hopped back into the Starship and continued onward to Lone Pine. Route 136 eventually terminates at Highway 395 in Lone Pine. Before heading into town for some dinner, we went south on 395 for about a mile until we turned into Diaz Lake. There we enjoyed the waterscape while sunset approached. There were strange and bizarre clouds all around due to the high winds in the area. To the north, there appeared a small army of Lenticular cloud formations.

“Lenticular Clouds line the skies west of the Inyo Mountains.”

“Julia takes an opportunity to appease her inner child on a swing set.”

“The sunset approached quickly and so did our appetites.” 

This Spring Equinox was one of the best I had ever experienced. Death Valley is always a treat and with such an expanse, it will take the rest of my life to explore it all. For now, a quick day trip through the park was more than satisfactory. Julia has a fantastic time and we were looking forward to the next adventure. The Owens Valley is the gateway to the Eastern Sierra Nevada and this is where big adventures begin.

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



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