Death Valley

Fall, 2000
Oct 7-10

We descended to the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere for this trip. Jay Melosh led us over giant polygons, the Hoover Dam, salt flats, and booming dunes. This was a long trip full of driving and we experienced unexpected delays when Ross Beyer locked his keys inside his pickup truck at the bottom of Death Valley. Thank goodness for AAA.

Jason, Ross, and Peter took pictures on our trip to Death Valley.

Day 1

Mostly a driving day. Celinda talked at Burro Creek about Caliche.

We went to Red Lake Playa where Jani talked about playas and Joe talked about giant dessication polygons.

Jay became very enthusiastic and started screaming "We've got giant cracks!" as we drove across the playa. The sunset was beautiful.

Day 2
Erich told us about the history of Hoover Dam.

Driving west, some of us made a mysterious "wrong turn" that took half the convoy down the Las Vegas Strip.

After this diversion we entered Death Valley. At Shoreline Butte, Felipe discussed Pleistocene lakes and palaeoshorelines.

There were many talks at Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. Different sources give slightly different elevations... A small plaque high on the cliff above us marked sea level, an unusual perspective. Fred and Devon talked about gravel fans, Adina gave several talks on fault scarps, and Andy reported on (unpublished) experiments concerning desert pavement. We even had some tourists listening attentively!

Day 3

Ross started our day with a case of the Ubehebejebes (TM) with the tale of Ubehebe crater, a spectacular example of a phreatic eruption.

A bouncy ride along a dirt track took us to the intriguing Racetrack Playa and its myserious moving stones. A couple of hundred rocks on this playa (including ones weighing 40 kg) leave trails as they move around over the years. They have never been observed in motion and are something of an enigma.

Matt told us about the evolution of the Desert Pupfish, which don't get nearly as much attention as Galapagos Finches.

We were blown off Ventifact Ridge, a place where aeolian erosion is particularly effective, and went on to Devil's Golf Course. This uncomfortable and surreal terrain was the last place in Death Valley to dry up and is now filled with evaporite deposits.

Back to Badwater, where Rachel discussed Salt Weathering and Ross stranded us for three hours. Thankfully, he stranded us next to a bathroom. We also had picturesque views of moonlight streaming across the valley floor as a near-full Moon rose above the mountains.

Day 4
Unsurprisingly, we did not reach our planned campsite after our lengthy sojourn in Death Valley and camped in the windiest, sandiest patch of the Mojave desert. Ingrid and Gwen showed us the Kelso Dunes, which failed to boom for us.

We went off-roading across a lava field to get to Amboy crater, where Dave regaled us with tales of vast glaciers sweeping across the southwest. We didn't believe him. The monotony of the long journey home was interrupted by a flat tire.

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Last Updated: 02 May 2003