December 31, 2004
First stop - the Artist Palate. The road changed significantly as we weaved our way "inland." It’s interesting that I should think of our steady climb to the Artist Palate in that way, but I guess it is due to the fact that we were moving up from sea level. This narrow pass had been declared a one-way system (thankfully), and we were able to pause occasionally to take in some of the fine views en route. We saw views stretching out to the distant mountains, with small plateaus covered in coarse sand in the foreground and the ever-present wide plains of Death Valley. The Palate was everything people had said it was – a mass of different pockets of "paint" just waiting for an almighty brush to descend to dab out the paint onto a giant canvas. Perhaps it had already happened, because the hues in this landscape were amazing.
The journey back down was a little hairy, with warning signs indicating that of the many accidents that take place on this road, the vast majority involve a single car – people misjudge the bends or are captivated by the scenery. Back onto Badwater Road and keep a careful eye out for an unusual feature on the right-hand side. There’s no sign, but you’ll recognise it by exclaiming, "Oh, there’s a giant mushroom." Mushroom Rock, as it is affectionately known, is a heavily eroded outcrop of basalt that has been weathered into the shape of a mushroom. Stop the car – another Kodak moment is about to be formed.
Carry on on this road (well, it is the only one in sight) and keep an eye out for the Golden Canyon. Drop a coin into the container and make use of the explanatory pamphlet. It is helpful and will make sense of the geology for you. But before you stroll in and up, just look at that view across Death Valley to the Panamint Mountains. Superb! It is a peaceful setting now, but in the past, flash floods swept down this valley, devastating the landscape and deepening the valley side. Once there was a substantial road here, but a torrent destroyed it.
We drove up to Zabriskie Point, but if we’d been less idle, we could have made the climb from the Golden Canyon. Now this is an incredible sight, with the sun bouncing off the rock faces emphasizing the different shades of orange and yellow and light penetrating into the craggy formation. It really has the look of a lunar landscape up here, and it felt like we were looking down on a completely different world. And it’s not just in one direction - the view is virtually 360 degrees.
We were not disappointed with a single second of Death Valley - a real treat to the senses.
From journal A trip around Death Valley