These pictures of Badwater Basin were taken during a Photography tour through Death Valley National Park on Thanksgiving Weekend in November of 2009. Out of all of Death Valley’s incredible tourist sights that I visited, including Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, The Devil’s Golf Course, the Artist’s Drive, and the Mesquite Sand Dunes- I most enjoyed the short time I got to spend here.
Badwater Basin’s claim to fame is that it sits at the lowest point of elevation in all of North America, at 282 feet below sea level. Incredibly, the highest point of elevation in the lowest 48 states (Mt. Whitney) is only 76 miles West of here!
The area was given its name due to a small pool of water that now sits just next to the modern parking lot. This water was rendered undrinkable by the incredibly high concentration of salt, due to the unique geological features and geochemical makeup of the valley.
In all the traveling throughout Death Valley, this was the only place I saw any standing water whatsoever. And that’s probably not a shock to most of you who know a thing or two about the area (it’s one of the most arid environments in existence), but I was there during a massive rainstorm!
The entirety of Badwater Basin is covered in complex and intricate salt-crystal structures of magnificent beauty. This is one of the coolest, most beautiful, and most fascinating places I’ve ever been, and I’ve seen quite a few National Parks. I’d rank this as a must-see destination for anyone at all interested in natural beauty.
As the sun began to dip below the mountain range hugging the valley floor, the shadows grew longer, and the features of the terrain even more spectacular. I sat in awe, watching the landscape transform as it began to glow golden-brown in the late afternoon light.
The salt formations are created by an endless cycle of freezing and thawing that the area undergoes, when nighttime temperatures dip deep into the blue, while blazing daytime heat leads the thing salt crust surface to crack into hexagonal honeycomb-like shapes.
Occasional rainstorms, like the one I witnessed my last night in the area, flood the valley and cover the entire area with a very thin sheet of standing water, no more a few centimeters deep. These shallow lakes don’t last long due to the daytime temperatures, with an annual evaporation rate of 150-inches!
As Wikipedia points out, this is the United States’ “greatest evaporation potential”, and “means that even a 12-foot deep, 30-mile-long lake would dry up in a single year.” As the water evaporates, some of the salt gets dissolved which ends up being deposited on the sandy floor as clean crystals which eventually accumulate into the incredible oceanic-looking formations.
Close-up shots appear like aerial photography of the Himalayas, with the salt deposits creating the impression of snow-tipped peaks rising from the valley floor. Wandering around the salt plan gave me the impression of being a giant amongst a desolate, but captivating landscape.
And in areas of extreme concentration, the salt-crystalline structures became increasingly complex. Like a colony of some sort of self-propagating polyps, the appearance of this bubbly landscape took my breath away, and forced me to reevaluate my conception of the area as a dry and dusty desert.
Be sure to check out some of Death Valley’s other incredible sights by visiting the links listed below.