Death Valley got its name from a group of pioneers lost there in the winter of 1849-1850. As they were finally climbing out of the valley over the Panamint Mountains, a member of the party is reputed to have looked back and said "goodbye, Death Valley." While only one member of the party had apparently died there, most of the group had been certain that they too were going to perish. Despite this fearsome reputation, which is in fact deserved, Death Valley is also a place of incredible natural beauty.
This week's photo was taken from an overlook above Stovepipe Wells. The dune field that lies just to the east was bathed in warm afternoon light as the sun set over the Panamints. All of the east-facing surfaces are covered in purplish shadows, while the west-facing surfaces are bathed in the warm light.
These dunes are one of the more easily recognizable desert features of Death Valley, but the valley is much, much more than just sand dunes. The Race Track is an odd dry lake bed on which rocks fallen down from the surrounding slopes apparently move under the influence of an as yet undetermined force. At Badwater Basin a spring percolates up from underground, but the salts accumulated from the run-off from the rest of the watershed make it undrinkable. At times of high rainfall, this area becomes a shallow lake until the scorching summer heat evaporates it all.
Perhaps more than any other feature of Death Valley, the high temperatures are known nearly world-wide. In fact, the world record highest air temperature of 134°F (57°C) was recorded at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913.
So while Death Valley is not a place to take lightly, it has an ethereal, stark beauty that makes it well worth visiting, if you go fully prepared.