Death Valley National Park – Badwater Basin

This was my favorite stop on the entire tour. Like looking into the Grand Canyon filled me with awe, so did standing here realizing the vastness and diversity that exists in this National Park.

“This geographic region – known as “Basin and Range” – is spreading apart, fracturing the earth’s crust along parallel fault lines. Huge blocks of land between the faults tilt like seesaws as the expansion continues. You are standing above the dropping edge of a fault block that is rising on its other side to create the Panamint Mountains. Behind you, the steep face of the Black Mountains is another rising fault block edge. These forces are still active. The next large earthquake could cause Badwater Basin to drop a few more feet below sea level.

Even as the basins and ranges form, erosion wears down the mountains. Debris from the surrounding area washes into this basin since it has no outlet to the sea. But erosion cannot keep up with geological forces that continue to create Death Valley – the basin drops faster than it fills. After millions of floods, nearly 9,000 feet of sand, silt, gravel and salt fill the valley basin.” – informational sign

“The source of Badwater’s salts is Death Valley’s drainage system – 9000 square miles – an area larger than New Hampshire. Rain falling on distant peaks creates floods that rush ever lower. Along the way minerals dissolve from rocks and join the flood. Here, at the lowest elevation, floods come to rest, forming temporary lakes. As the water evaporates, minerals concentrate until only the salts remain. After thousands of years, enough salts have washed in to produce layer upon layer of crust.” – Death Valley National Park web site

Badwater got its name when a surveyor mapping the area tried to get his mule to drink from this pool and it refused. He wrote on his map that the spring had “bad water” and the name stuck. The water is really not bad, as in poisonous, it is just salty. Pickleweed, aquatic insects, larvae and one of Death Valley’s most rare creatures – the Badwater Snail – live in this pool. These tiny mollusks exist only in the few springs at the edge of Death Valley salt flats. The pool is accessible by a boardwalk to protect this habitat.

Alluvial fans form at the the mouths at every canyon in Death Valley. In the picture above left, you can see the gray-colored deposits left at the mouth of one of the canyons flowing into the Badwater Basin. Flash flood water carries boulders, gravel, sand and silt – anything eroding off the mountains, through the canyon and as the water exits it spreads out and looses its ability to carry the sediment so it drops its load at the mouth. Boulders will be dropped first at the mouth of the canyon and the finest material will lie at the limits of the fan. You can see alluvial fans at the bottom of the Panamint Range, also, in the right hand picture. In the picture there appears to be streams or creeks running off the mountains but it is dry sediment deposits.