After catching the pretty cool sunrise at Salt Creek, I wanted to check out the highest points where I could drive up to so that I could see Badwater Basin. And I ended up at Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View. And I knew I was able to reach Ubehebe Crater just in time for the sunset.
NOTE: For the usual HOW TO GET TOs and WHAT TO BRINGs, please refer to my first day in Death Valley post.
MY DAY AT SALK CREEK, DANTE’S VIEW AND UBHEBE CRATER
I originally planned to catch the Milky Way and the sunrise at Racetrack Playa, but due to the rocky road condition that I didn’t know (although I could’ve made a long detour to get there if I really wanted to do) and it was getting late, I decided to spend the night at Salt Creek.
And I caught the Milky Way shots that I wanted, so I was quite pleased about that.
It was also a refreshing reminder of how much city light pollution we are used to.
Although I didn’t get much of sleep, like I mentioned in the earlier post, it was time to catch the sunrise at Salt Creek.
And the sunrise at Salt Creek was not disappointing at all. Even the sunrise glow was pretty good before rising over the hill.
As the sun rose higher, the spotty clouds started gathering into a few clumps with interesting shapes and shades, which added an extra texture to the sight.
The sun started spilling its golden luminous glow everywhere. It was one of those few moments when everything seemed so calm and peaceful. Serenity.
Salt Creek started waking up too.
The wheelchair friendly boardwalk at Salt Creek stretched a bit into the endless part of this desert creek. It was quite amazing to think that there was a massive freshwater lake at one point which had gotten shrunk to this, and now it was a home to the Salt Creek pupfish, which was not found anywhere else in this entire world but here in Death Valley National Park.
They were quite small but easily spotted in the very shallow creek. These pupfish travelled mostly in schools up and down the stream. It was quite interesting to witness such tiny fish that swam in the giant freshwater lake 10,000 years ago and then had adapted to saltwater as the lake got shrunk into the current size of the stream.
What was interesting is that they evolved into the current survival mechanism. Not only the saltwater condition but also the drastic change in temperature, from as hot as 130°F to as cold as 45 °F. Endemic to only three water streams in Death Valley National Park, it made me appreciate what is considered endangered spices.
The 1/2 mile round-trip boardwalk is a very pleasant and peaceful stroll. I didn’t see coyotes or any other wildlife there, other than small birds, but you’d see them if they were around.
I loved how the shadow stripes were laid upon the hills as the streaks of clouds lingered above it.
Once I got to the other end of the boardwalk, I could either walk back to the trailhead in a loop or venture farther out into the creek. It was a dirt trail that ran along the stream which was far stretched into McLean Spring.
As I sauntered a bit farther out, I noticed the peaks jutting up over the ledge on the right. From Grapevine Peak to Pyramid Peak, running from north to south, this mountain range defined the borderline of California and Nevada.
I really wanted to hike farther but as always time needed to be wisely spent. I still had at least three more places to visit this day. And the distance between those points of interest wasn’t close in Death Valley National Park.
I hopped in the car and headed to Furnace Creek. Furnace Creek is notorious for its highest temperature ever recorded, which was 134°F back in 1913 although some meteorologists dispute the accuracy. However, no one could dispute the ground temperature of 201 °F back in July 1972, which may be the highest natural ground surface temperature ever recorded.
My first stop was Zabriskie Point. Besides the gorgeous view of the site including the view of Badwater Basin laid in front of it, I got curious about how it was named Zabriskie. According to the interpretive sign at the lookout point, Christian Brevoort Zabriskie was the man who devoted his time and energy to preserve what we see today when he was the vice president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company.
It was obvious to see how dry these badlands were, complete opposite of what I saw at Salt Creek less than two hours ago.
Manly Beacon is one of the landmarks at Zabriskie Point, many photographed before. Part of me wanted to do Golden Canyon Trail/Gower Gulch Loop, but it was a 7.8 mile round-trip hike, and once again I was not sure if I had enough time to do it. My initial plan was to hike from the Golden Canyon trailhead up to Zabriskie Point as out and back. Maybe next time when I go back.
Next stop was a lookout point called Dante’s View, Death Valley NP.
What a magnificent view Dante’s View offered!
The entire view of the long stretched Death Valley, Panamint Range, and especially Badwater Basin from Dante’s View was just breathtaking. It truly was one of the places to be there to feel even the fraction of the sheer vastness of it. No wonder Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the contiguous US.
It was one of those moments where I kept pressing the shutter button because everywhere I laid my eyes was worth a shot. It was just mind-blowing.
Sometime you wondered why you ended up with so many photos when you were back home from a trip. That was what happened to me here at Dante’s View.
Because I didn’t hike earlier at Zabriskie Point, I really wanted to squeeze in a bit of walk in for the day. And Dante’s Peak, or Dante BM, if you want to be accurate, definitely stood out for me. It was higher than Dante’s View, which would offer better landscape photography opportunities, especially with Mt. Perry, which caught my eye behind Dante BM when I looked at Dante BM from the Dante’s View parking lot.
Along with Mt. Perry, Dante’s Peak was one of the highest points in the Black Mountains. Personally, I was hoping to hike Telescope Peak on this trip at first, but I realized that there was still snow, and I didn’t have all the needed winter gear, such as an ice axe and crampons, so I decided to wait till later in the season.
I found three geodetic markers although I didn’t know if there were more, and the second one reading No.2 seemed to be installed most recently.
The one with the view of Death Valley seemed to be the oldest, or most weathered. Probably over a hundred years old?
Mt. Perry, which is a few feet taller than Dante’s Peak, looked quite attractive. Part of me wanted to hike along the ridge line to the peak, but I didn’t have much of information then, such as distance, although it seemed quite straight forward.
Later I learned that it would’ve been a 8 mile round trip hike from Dante’s View with about 3,300 feet total elevation gain due to the ups and downs in the ridge. Considering how warm it could get, it was a good decision not to do it that late.
Behind Mt. Perry and the ridge line, Schwaub and Pyramid Peaks in the Funeral Mountains caught my eye. These were part of the mountain range that divides the park into two – one in California and the other in Nevada although the majority of the park is located in California.
On my way back to Dante’s View, I spotted this familiar cactus, whose flowers were blossoming.
I was quite excited to be up at Dante’s View and Dante’s Peak. Of course, it was a short hike with only a moderate 200 feet elevation gain, but it really offered an amazing view of the valley. And it was quite humbling to know that the valley has existed longer than any human ever lived here (the record showed as old as 7,000 BC), and it still will for quite some time, who knows how long, into the future.
We are just a small spec on this habitable planet called Earth in this universe, and what I experienced was a tiny fraction of what had been accumulated over approximately 1.7 billion years. It was not something that would disappear overnight, a couple of thousand years, or even hundreds of years. But I will. We all will.
So, appreciating what came before us and will remain even after we are gone is not something that we should take for granted.
It was time to move on from Dante’s View to the next stop, and the last point of interest for the day was Ubehebe Crater. From the Dante’s View and Furnace Creek area to Ubehebe Crater wasn’t a short drive. In fact, it was over 80 miles. Particularly, I wanted to catch the sunset there, facing west with a clear sky view, I could not waste time to get there in time.
After about 1 1/2 hours of driving from Dante’s View, the view of the crater upon stepping onto the sandy site was just quite impressive.
It was not like I had never seen or been to a crater before, but the different colors and textures of the soil here were definitely something unique.
Part of it reminded me of Haleakala National Park, which I solo backpacked for 2 nights and 3 days a few years ago when I visited Maui. Of course, that was a completely out of this world experience, and it is worth of a whole new post. But for now, this crater helped me reminisce about the beauty of the barren land that I explored in Hawaii, and I wanted to see what this particular crater had to offer.
Once I hiked up the gentle incline along the rim of the crater to the right, I arrived at one of the lookout points where many tourists would be found (although there was only several when I was there), and this was where you could go either farther around the entire crater and/or to a little crater called Little Hebe.
It was a short walk to Little Hebe but I saw no soul around the crater. I got the impression that not many were interested in visiting Little Hebe.
I sort of retraced the short trail back to Ubehebe and veered off to the right and started continuing up along the Ubehebe Crater rim. It was a continuous, gradual uphill walk. Not strenuous at all, but it was very sandy. Just like when I was hiking in Painted Canyon.
The sunset at Ubehebe Crater was as beautiful as I expected. I specifically chose the halfway point around the rim from the trailhead.
Earlier when I had arrived at the crater, part of me wanted to hike down to the bottom of the crater, which people do often. But considering the amount of time that I had to hike around the rim to get to the halfway point, it was not feasible. Obviously I could have not caught the sunset as I did if I stayed at the bottom.
As the sun started sinking behind the Dry Mountain line, the remaining part of the sun was still hitting the east rim wall of the crater. And the dramatic color contrast juxtaposed against Tin Mountain was quite a sight.
And the sunset glow over Dry Mountain line was a simple reminder that beauty is everywhere, no matter wherever I was.
Once the magic hour came and went, the darkness slowly reclaimed the world.
It was time for me to leave Ubehebe Crater behind and head for Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the next stop, where I would spend the night while indulging myself in the company of the Milky Way again if the night sky was clear and hopefully a nice sunset next morning.
I loaded my camera gear pack into my car and drove off the Ubehebe Crater parking lot. The nightfall receded rather quickly.
Have you been to all of the points of interest while visiting Death Valley National Park? What is your favorite? What was your Dante’s View experience like? Did you hike around the Ubehebe Crater rim?
Thanks for reading.