Sunday, April 29, 2012

Geopilgrimage: Death Valley

The theme for this month's Accretionary Wedge, #45, and hosted by Denise Tang at  Life as a Geologist, is to describe a
Geological Pilgrimage – the sacred geological place that you must visit at least once in your lifetime

Because the topic may slightly overlap the previous AW#16 – Geologists’t List, I would like to define the pilgrimage as a single place, which is “geologically” unique, relatively remote, and requires some difficulty to get to. If you have already done your geological pilgrimage, please share with us your experience. If you are still planning your pilgrimage, then let us know where your sacred geological spot is and why.
Now I figured someone else, maybe someone who has some photos of their own, would choose Death Valley, and save me the trouble, but with approximately a day left, I haven't seen this location given the shout-out it so richly deserves. I'm not going to go into lots of detail, but I don't think a lifetime would be enough to fully explore the enormous territory and complexity of this, the largest National Park in the lower 48. In the screen capture above, I have labeled the approximate locations of a number of sites I have visited- many on multiple occasions- in my visits to this park. Due to the necessity of choosing a limited area for the image, some spots, especially to the south, are unlabeled: Shoreline Butte comes to mind. And on my most recent trip, about 4 years ago, we ended an exploratory drive WAY the hell up in the Cottonwoods somewhere near White Top Mountain... I haven't been able to tell with certainty exactly where we were, but it was on a ridge out into the main valley, with a stunning view to the south over the dunes. And I know I could find it again, though I probably won't.

There's just so much to see and do in the area that it feels futile to try. I think the best I can do is to point to a recent series by Gary Hayes at GeotripperStrangers in a Strange Land. I'll also quote a story I've told many times, but only once on this blog:
Coming down off the Panamints, one can see the rugged geology of those mountains, but the wider view of the valley floor is mostly obscured until rounding a corner a little ways above Stovepipe Wells. Suzy was sitting in the front seat looking back at me the moment we went around that corner. As she recounted later, between gales of laughter, I leaned forward, my eyes went wide, and my jaw slowly dropped. I gasped, "Oh. My God. Look at all the naked rocks."
The exposure is frankly hard to believe, the diversity seems almost endless, the spring wildflowers are glorious (my favorite time to visit is late March), and the scenery is other-worldly. There are plenty of places that merit my consideration in the US and Canada, but Death Valley trumps every single one of them. No matter what kind of geology rings your bell best, Death Valley has it.

Followup note: I realized the arrows to Ubehebe Crater and Racetrack Playa might be confusing: the arrow pointing NW near the labels is toward Ubehebe Crater, but you have to go that way to get to the Racetrack, too. The arrow under the Racetrack Playa label actually points to that feature.