Vegas was never high on my list of places to visit, but when the opportunity arose I was not about to pass it up, and was I glad that I didn’t. While the spaces in that part of America are vast, Vegas is centrally located enough to be the perfect place from which to explore the region. Within a three to four hour drive you can reach Zion National Park, the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon, and my favourite – Death Valley. As we had had an eight hour drive the day before to visit the Grand Canyon we decided to see Death Valley via a guided tour.
It was just the two of us and our guide Scott, who made our trip worth every penny as he was equally knowledgeable on the history, geology, flora and fauna of the region, and the Hummer proved to be perfect for the ‘off road’ portions of the adventure. It was amazing to see the change in landscape as we crossed from Nevada into California, and began our descent to the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. The change in vegetation was noticeable, and as we descended into Death Valley it was like arriving into a different world.
Much of the valley looks more like images from the Mars Rover, or some alien world.
It further challenges belief when you realise that early settlers travelled through the region and others, mostly miners in search of riches, lived and worked here, if for a brief time.
We visited an abandoned borax mine, once a hive of activity as the mineral was dug out of the ground, processed and shipped west by horse and wagon to be used in the soap industry.
A small cluster of buildings away from the mine complex, once home to Chinese labourers, remains a stark reminder of the racism and poor treatment faced by Chinese immigrants to America.
From the mine it is a short drive to the lowest point of the valley. At 85.5 meters or 282 feet below sea level it is one of the lowest points on earth. Shortly after leaving the low point we turned left down a narrow road leading out into the valley to a place known as “The Devil’s Golf Course”. Formed of large chunky pieces of salt, this is just about the most bizarre geological formation you will ever see.
Bizarre salt encrusted ground, cliffs that look like they have been brushed from an artists palette, extreme heat and little moisture, Death Valley offers an amazing opportunity to explore the the history of America and the earth itself. Given the extreme conditions, great distances to travel, and to really appreciate what you will be seeing, it is one journey that is best done with a guide.