Death Valley: 20 Mules & Zabriskie Point

cactus in death valley

Heading out of Beatty, Nevada, State Highway 374 runs southwest towards Death Valley National Park. It runs straight as an arrow for about 9 miles where it begins to wind its way up towards Daylight Pass between the Funeral Mountains to the south and the Grapevine Mountains to the north.  The photo above is a bit misleading; you don’t really see many cacti in Death Valley, but you do see a lot of mountains, some are even snow capped.

After ascending about 1000 feet and crossing into California, the road begins to descend towards the valley.  The view finally opens up and, at a viewpoint called Hell’s Gate, the salt-covered playa of Death Valley is finally visible.  Beatty, Nevada sits at an elevation of about 3300 feet, Daylight Pass is about 4300 feet, and Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America, is 282 feet below sea level.  It was overcast and a bit hazy but we could make out the salty playa far below.

Death Valley from Hell's Gate

Departing Hell’s Gate we took a left on Beatty Road and continued our descent.  We eventually joined up with State Road 190, which is the nicest road I’ve ever driven on in a National Park.  The speed limit was 65 mph and the pavement was smooth and flat, very unlike most of the other roads in the park.

Heading towards Furnace Creek we entered an area where the landscape was dusted in white.  I had to tell my Wisconsin eyes that this was not snow.  We decided to stop for a closer look.  The white surface was quite hard, presumably salt that had been washed into the valley from the surrounding mountains and deposited by the evaporating water.  This was confirmed when, a little further down the road, we arrived at the Harmony Borax Works, the source of 20 Mule Team Borax.  Remnants of the old borax works remain on the site along with some borax wagons sans mules.  Memories of 20 Mule Team Borax remain in my mind from watching Death Valley Days on television in my formative years.


After a short stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center we continued down the road to see Zabriskie Point.  I thought we might have to hike a ways to get to the viewpoint but it was only a short uphill climb from the parking lot.  The hillsides were a rich melange of beige, ecru, umber and chocolate brown.  (Please add more synonyms to the list because it was truly an amazing mixture.)  The view was wonderful, so much so that we stopped here almost every day.  One afternoon we watched as a dark cloud tried valiantly to rain on the dry landscape.  It did not have much success.


Death Valley was much more interesting than I had anticipated.  I’ll continue to go through my photos and add another couple of posts.  But, before I finish this one I should probably answer the most commonly asked question right away: No, there were not many flowers.  Park Rangers told us that, unlike last year, this was just a typical year for flowers.  We did spot some here and there.  Mostly tiny ones.  Pretty, nonetheless.


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