Death Valley is the largest national park in the United States, outside Alaska. It is in the Mojave Desert on the California/Nevada line. It includes the lowest point in the United States and mountains that rise to 11,000 feet.
The first full day we were in Death Valley we started out at Zabriskie Point. It gave us a good overview of some of things we would see over the next two days. This area exhibits “ranges and basins” topography. I think of it as mountains and valleys. I think of the poor pioneers who, after climbing up one range, gets to the top and sees the next three ranges and basins they will have to cross.
Zabriskie Point was named for Christian B. Zabriskie (1864-1936), vice president and general manager of The Pacific Coast Borax Company. He oversaw the operations in Death Valley during the transition from mining to tourism.
“The other worldly badlands around you are deathly silent and still. Yet this arid scene is a result of often violent action of water and earthquakes. Three to five million years ago -before the deepest part of Death Valley had been formed – shimmering lakes filled a long, mountain rimmed valley here. Fine silt and volcanic ash washed into the lake, settling to the bottom, ultimately creating the thick deposit of clay, sandstone and siltstone that make up the Furnace Creek Formation. These once-level layers are being tilted by seismic activity and pressure that is folding the ancient valley’s floor. As these layers uplifted and were exposed, periodic rainstorms caused powerful gullywashers that erode the soft rock into the chaotic yet strangely beautiful landscape we see today.
Volcanic activity also influenced this landscape. The black layer across the wash is lava that oozed out onto the ancient lakebed. Hot water followed the lava, bringing minerals such as borax, gypsum, and calcite with it. Hot water also altered the mineral makeup of the Artist’s Drive Formation, hydrothermally altering the rock into the psychedelic swirls of color on the hills beyond”.