A visit to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, located a few hours north east of Los Angeles, is a part of the country I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s a massive national park that encompasses many natural wonders, including the lowest elevation point in North America (282 feet below sea level). It’s a place with the hottest recorded temperature (134 F), and given it’s remoteness and lack of development, it sorta feels like another planet.

I recently spent the day exploring the park and doing a few short hikes.  Because it was January, the cooler weather allowed me to test out some Terramar Sports base layers in the field.

Death Valley National Park

The valley floor is about 5,000 feet below

After driving for about 2 hours from the Las Vegas strip, I entered the park from the east on Route 190. Our first stop was Dante’s View, a viewpoint atop a series of switchbacks. Looking down at Death Valley and the surrounding mountains, it’s hard to get a sense of scale, but easy to get a sense of the park: vast, quiet, dry and still.

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Looking northwest from Dante’s View in my Climasense Ecolator 1/4 Zip

I was happy to have an extra layer at Dante’s view because the wind was blowing strong and steady, and my blue Terramar 1/4 zip worked out great. After a short hike and some photos, we continued to the valley floor, some 5,000 feet below.

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Looking north at Badwater Basin

After a brief stop at Furnace Creek ranch, we continued south to Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America and the site of vast salt-flats.

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Salt and mineral deposits in Badwater Basin

Here the wind was gone, the sun beat down, and I could only imagine the unrelenting heat that one must feel during the summer. We walked around and took photos, and my green Terramar dry-fit Helix Tee kept me cool and comfortable (and visible!).

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Wondering around and keeping cool at Badwater Basin in my Terramar Helix Tee

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Fun fact: salt flats taste salty!

A highlight of the trip was a detour along Artists Drive, a 9-mile loop through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills.

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View along Artist’s Drive

“This is a place that hints of secrets, that tucks its beauty deep inside narrow canyons, buries its treasures beneath tones of earth, hoards its water beneath the soil. And continues to attract a never-ending stream of humans intent upon wresting those secrets from their hiding places. In the process, they venture far into dark, secluded canyons. They dig deep into the earth. They explore holes in the ground. And as some seek riches, others search for the mysterious. The unknown. The Mythical.” – John Soennichsen

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Death Valley National Park

Near the center of the park we visited Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a beautiful and picturesque collection of dunes and brush, the highest one is about a hundred feet tall.

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Dunes in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells

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Exploring the dunes in my Terramar Ecolator 1/4 Zip

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Our final stop was a trailhead down a long, unpaved road on the western edge of the park. Racing the sunset we started a short, flat hike up a canyon to a creek bed. The dry earth slowly became a trickle of water, then a small stream, and eventually a series of pools and small cascades. Hoping between rocks and scrambling over a few boulders, we ended our hike at a waterfall called Darwin Falls. The water was flowing, and it was a nice quiet place to sit for a few minutes before leaving the park. On our way back to the park we even saw a bat circling some water, no doubt searching for a sunset snack.

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I recommend visiting the park to anyone who cherishes the outdoors in one of it’s purist forms, however I’d recommend spending at least one night in the park because it’s so large.  For those interested in learning more about the ecology, history and inhabitants of Death Valley I highly recommend Live! From Death Valley by John Soennichsen

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Panorama Trail

And here I sit in the sun on a wide, smooth, sloping rock.

 

Before me flows the river. Clear and cold, home to fish and smooth stones, inviting sweaty hikers to dip their dusty feet and welcoming me for a quick dip to cool down and clean off.

 

Straight ahead is the forest. Thick and full, green with moss and leaves, trees, grey and brown and red, others dead and bleached paled by the sun.

 

To the left a scramble of stones, piled upon each other and scattered, slowing the water into pools and trickles, the sound is soothing enough for me to nap in the sun for a few minutes.

 

Squirrels creep about in search of food, tiny lizards and frogs enjoy the rocks near the waters edge. Blue feathered birds bounce from tree to tree.

 

To the right beyond the sandy shallows is a small foot bridge, another of the thousands of photo opportunities, It acts as the final gateway for this tranquil water before gravity leads to a violent drop, Nevada Falls. Even in September, during this historic 2014 drought, the water flows.

 

Beyond the falls lay the Yosemite Valley. Hard to absorb in scale and mass, its walls and trees and river and cliffs simply astound those lucky enough to visit.

 

Behind me Liberty Cap blocks my view of Half Dome, other worldly these granite monuments stand, grey and green against the deep blue above.

 

This place, this rock, this experience is special. I hope to return to this rock again one day. And to continue to be astonished by the natural world and it’s beauty.
Alex and Andrea are awake now, so it’s time to hike down the winding granite steps to the shuttle then the car then to campsite 144 for cold beer, a refreshing swim in the river, hearty dinner and wine by the fire.

Griffith Park by night

Living the in the vast sprawl of Los Angeles, sometimes it’s nice to get away from the crowds and the freeways.

The other night a friend and I took a long hike all around Griffith Park to view the lunar eclipse.

I’ve hiked in Griffith Park before, usually under a hot sun on a clear day, but at night the park takes on a whole new feel. It’s more quiet, more empty and more wild. We heard birds calling in the distance and kept our eyes peeled for coyotes or snakes (fortunately we didn’t see either, although there were a few times when an errant tree branch appeared quite serpentine in the moonlight).

It was nice to be able to hike in the cool air, to look at the vast city below with it’s sparkling lights. Above the city helicopters flew low, planes flew high, the moon rose brightly until the vail of the eclipse – the reflection of all of earth’s sunrises and sunsets painting the moon amber and red.

We hiked about 6 miles, from 7pm-1am. I kept all my photo gear, snacks, water (and some bourbon) secure in my Lowepro backpack, and stayed warm with my favorite Terramar base layer.

I didn’t get any great photos of the moon that night, but I did get a few of the view.

This was my first hike by moonlight, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Griffith Observatory over downtown

Griffith Observatory overlooking Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

Downtown Los Angeles by Night

Blur over downtown LA

A long exposure photo with motion blur

Hollywood Sign Hike

One of my goals for this year is doing a lot of local hikes, and one I’ve always been interested in is the summit of Mount Lee, home to the Hollywood Sign.

This website has all the info about how to get there and what to expect, and it took me and K about 2 hours for the 3.5 mile loop.

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Pano