Far off in the distance, above the western edge of the valley, rose a broad, snow-capped peak: Telescope Peak, Death Valley's highest at over 11,000 feet. It didn't look like over 11,000 feet of prominence from our point below sea level to it, but Death Valley is confusing that way. With no obvious points of reference, your brain makes all sorts of incorrect assumptions about size and scale.
Next up was a scenic drive along the 'Artist's Loop Drive'. This is a paved, one-way road that winds up into the foothills below the Amargosa Range not far north of Badwater. The highlight along this road is a weird area of crumbly polychromatic rock outcrops at the base of Black Mountain, known as the Artist's Palette. We stopped here and Pu and I got out to explore, while Jenn and Bob decided to stay back and lounge in the parking area.
The weirdly colored purples, pinks, greens, and reds of the Artist's Palette are caused by the oxidation of the various types of mixed up rock debris that is found in this formation, some of it volcanic in origin, some of it sediments washed down from elsewhere. Walking about in the small hills and ravines in the area is an interesting experience. It is a weird, chalky, crumbling layer cake of a place -- A place where on one step you are treading blue-green dirt and the next a climbing a slab of purple stone.
Andrew at Artists Palette
Bob and Jenn patiently wait
Returning to the Jeep, we continued north for a bit. I wanted to show Jenn, Pu and Bob the badlands of Golden Ganyon and Zabriskie point, a scenic highlight of Death Valley. There is an excellent car-accessible lookout that allows one to gaze down on a perfect combination of furrowed golden badlands backdropped by the snowcapped peaks of the Panamint Range in the background. Zabriskie Point is a lofty tower of badlands rock that forms the perfect anchor point for the scene.
Unfortunately for us, we arrived at a point where the high, hazy clouds had thickened, creating a rather dull overcast and greatly reducing the impact of the scene.
Badlands at Zabriskie Point
By now we'd already seen a great cross-section of Death Valley sights, from peaktops to below sea-level salt flats and much in between. And it was only noon-time! We needed to keep an eye on the time now, though, because we had to make sure we got back to Las Vegas, checked into our Motel rooms, and acquired the second rental vehicle, all before picking up Cathy and Mike at the airport shortly after 8pm. Plus we needed another stop at the REI for a few more camping supplies.
Busted prop bike
Despite this weighty itinerary before us, we did have a bit of time left, and I decided that a great capper would be the view from Dante's View, a lofty 5,000+ foot viewpoint directly above Badwater. A long and sometimes winding paved road leads up many thousands of feet to a parking area right at the view. We got out to a much cooler breeze and walked over to the edge.
Spread out over 5,000 feet below us was the broad salt flat of Badwater, where we had been only a couple of hours before. We could see the tiny dots of people walking out on the flats, exactly where we had been. Across the valley was again Telescope Peak, still rising high above our elevation even though we had come up almost a mile in elevation. To the north, I pointed out general location of the various points we had just visited that morning - Badwater, Zabriskie Point and Golden Canyon, the Borax works, Devil's Golf Course, and Artist's Palette.
With that came the close of a very jam-packed whirlwind 24-hour tour of Death Valley. It was now mid-afternoon, and we needed to make our way back to Las Vegas. Driving eastwards, passing through the sprawling town of Pahrump, we arrived back in the Las Vegas area at around 5pm. We arranged for our rooms at the Motel 6 nearest the airport (our usual hangout spot when we visit Vegas for short periods like this), stopped by at the REI for a few more items, then wandered around looking for a bite to eat. We had a little time to kill before we had to go and pick up the second rental vehicle.
Memphis Championship BBQ
We stumbled upon a quite decent authentic BBQ ribs place called Memphis Championship Barbeque. With many trophies adorning the entrance, we entered and were seated by a most friendly waiter in a nice, deep booth. We probably had a little too much to eat, but it was worth it. The Ribs that Pu and Bob ordered looked done properly (not boiled), with that characteristic pink color, and my brisket was pretty tasty, too. A BBQ fanatic would probably have a lot of good things to say about this place!
Recounting the day
After dinner, with a little too much goodness in our bellies, we swung by the airport car rental complex to pick up our second rental vehicle. We then drove both vehicles back to the motel, and then Jenn and I left Pu and Bob to relax while we headed off to the airport to pick up Cathy and Mike. By 10pm we were all back at the motel, and had a quick meeting to discuss logistics and timetables for the main phase of our trip. Cathy and Mike were full of questions, and one could tell they were a bit apprehensive (but excited) to be at the start of the adventure they had so long planned for: backpacking in the Grand Canyon!