One of my favorite places in Death Valley is the Devil’s Golf Course. A lot of people skip this area because they’re in a hurry to reach Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the continental US at 282 feet below sea level (and all the temporary graffiti that is unfortunately there). While Badwater certainly shouldn’t be missed, taking some time to go down the half-mile dirt road which leads to the Devil’s Golf Course is well worth the time.
One of the most surprising aspects of this area is that the bigger salt crystals aren’t easily broken (there are more delicate crystals which can be found hidden in the crevices which are fragile). From a distance, the large crystals look delicate, but as soon as you touch one you know why this area received the name it did. Not only are they hard, they are sharp and pointy. It’s no coincidence that there are warning signs all around the area letting people know that “a fall cold result in painful cuts or even broken bones.”
This is how the information sign in the area describes the Devil’s Golf Course formation:
Crystallized salts composed the jagged formations of this forbidding landscape. Deposited by ancient salt lakes and shaped by winds and rain, the crystals are forever changing.
Listen carefully. On a warm day you may hear a metallic cracking sound as the salt pinnacles expand and contract.
The Death Valley saltpan is one of the largest protected saltpans in North America. Salt continues to be deposited by recurring floods that occasionally submerge the lowest parts of the valley floor. Delicate salt formations are hidden among the harsh and rigid spires. Close inspection may reveal the tiny salt structures. Take care — one curious touch can cause them to crumble.
So if you’re visiting Death Valley, be sure to set aside a little time to visit this area. You won’t regret it.
One of the unfortunate things and growing problem that I see much too often at national parks is graffiti. I really don’t understand why people feel it’s necessary to come to an amazingly beautiful place, and they feel the need to leave a mark so that it isn’t quite as beautiful for the next person that comes around. In fact, some national parks have resorted to putting up anti graffiti fine signs in an attempt to keep people from marking up sites within national parks. During my recent visit to Death Valley at Badwater, one thing that you couldn’t help but notice was the large amount of graffiti etched into the salt while walking out into the valley:
Not only was there a lot of it, people were openly carving their preferred graffiti into the salt without a hint of anything being wrong in doing so. I stopped to ask a few people who were carving their names into the salt why they thought it was OK and they gave two basic answers. First, they said that everyone else had done it so one more person doing it wouldn’t really matter. The second reason was that the graffiti wasn’t really “permanent” since water would at some point flow over it and wash it away in time. They likened it to writing something on a beach where the waves would eventually come in and wash whatever was written in the sand away.
The problem with the first justification I think is obvious to all. Just because someone has done something doesn’t make it right and OK for others to do. The problem with the second is that the process of eliminating the salt graffiti would take a much longer period than the waves washing away things written in the sand. The graffiti etched into the salt was likely to stay there for months at a minimum.
While I was disappointed that so many people felt the need to write their names into the salt, the second justification does bring up an interesting question. In your opinion, is temporary graffiti acceptable in any instance in national parks?
If you are going to take a trip to Death Valley National Park, you’re definitely going to want to make a stop at Badwater, the lowest point in North America. Badwater has an elevation of negative 282 feet (-86 meters) or 282 feet below sea level. Badwater is marked with a sign (The sign and the Badwater spring beside it are not actually the lowest point of the Badwater Basin: the true lowest point is several miles to the west over the salt flats, but can be dangerous and difficult to reach)
To the right of the Badwater sign is a small spring-fed pool of water that is undrinkable due to the salt content giving the point it’s name: Badwater. Even though the water is undrinkable, that doesn’t mean there isn’t life in it. The Badwater spring hosts varied plant life, aquatic insects and the Badwater snail.
If you are a bit more adventurous, you can take a short walk out into the Badwater Basin salt flat: