Friday, November 16, 2012

The Grandeur of Zabriskie Point

Eight miles out of Pahrump on Nevada's Scenic Route to Death Valley.

A simple routine glance at the instrument panel...a blinking light. The "Check Engine" light.

About 70 miles from our first destination in the National Park.

As I pulled onto the shoulder, all I could think of was an word of warning in one of the local travel brochures that read something like: "Check your tires, brakes, and other essentials on your car before heading for Death Valley. A tow back to Pahrump can cost up to $1,200."

Without hesitation, we headed back to Pahrump.

The repair shop had to send someone to Las Vegas for a thermostat.


Twenty-four hours later we passed the same eight-mile mark--and kept on driving.

Ninety minutes later, a short hike took us to Zabriskie Point.

From "Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by yet another of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. These are
badlands. Everywhere you look, you see bone-dry, finely-sculpted, golden brown rock. Only the sparsest vegetation can survive in this intricately carved terrain.

"The story of Death Valley's badlands begins and ends, surprisingly enough, with water.
"At Zabriskie Point, the badlands developed on a mudstone foundation (Furnace Creek Formation). Fine-grained sediments (silt and clay) were deposited in one of Death Valley's prehistoric lakes, then were buried by still more sediment, and finally compressed and weakly cemented to form the soft rock called mudstone.
"If you took a microscopic look, you would see that the clay minerals in the mudstone are shaped like tiny plates. These plates act like roof shingles, preventing water from penetrating the surface. The combination of the almost impermeable mudstone and Death Valley's scant rainfall makes plant growth and soil development nearly impossible.
"Now, back to the role of water. At Death Valley rainfall is intense but sporadic. Very long periods of drought are punctuated with drenching downpours. With so little vegetation and no soil, when water reaches the ground, there is nothing to absorb the rainfall.
"During Death Valley's rain showers, water hits the surface and immediately begins to rush down the steep slopes, sweeping along particles of loosened mud. The rate of erosion can be incredible!
"Tiny rills are quickly carved into the soft mudstone. The more water in the downpour, the more rills are needed to carry the water away. Rills cut deeper to form gullys. Badlands are the ultimate result--nature's way of efficiently moving lots of water quickly."
It was overcast on the morning of our stop here, but I could still imagine what the brilliant sunrise and the resulting effect of shadows would produce on these same scenes.
This overlook was named to honor Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, who was the vice president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and served in that capacity for thirty-six years until his retirement in 1933.
Trails wind through these hills, and I was just able to catch one hiker (the very small figure just to the left of center in the photo below) before he disappeared behind one of the hills.
Close-up photos of sections of the rock formations revealed these abstract art creations.

Note to self: Return at sunrise or sunset for photos.

1 comment:

Christina said...

This is truly one of my favorite spots on earth!