Death Valley - My Family Travels


I stood at the pinnacle of the mountain, full of awe the marvelous view. From behind me, I heard Art, our teacher, announce, “From here you can see both the highest and lowest points in the continental U.S! Mount Whitney is over there,” he declared, pointing at the tallest mountain in sight, just visible over the surrounding mountains. “It has an elevation of about 14,500 feet above sea level. Death Valley, over here toward the southeast, is about 280 feet below sea level. You can see the white color from all the salt deposits.” Amazed, I gazed in wonder around the snowy mountain we stood on.


            Five days beforehand, a handful of students from my school, myself included, had boarded the flight to Death Valley, our backpacks and bags carefully packed and ready for adventure… and a nap. We all arrived at BWI airport by 3:30 am, anticipating the excitement of new sights and the chance to learn more about the geology of an unfamiliar place. During the following week-long trip our whole group gained the chance to see new sights and expand our knowledge of geology. I also gained the chance to realize, once again, how much I appreciate wild, undeveloped places and the new experiences to be gained by traveling.

            After our arrival in Los Angeles, the four trip leaders divided us into groups and hustled us, and our bags, into the three minivans and one truck as quickly as possible. We then took the initially smooth drive into Death Valley National Park. After stopping once to get park passes, we made it to our first destination – Ubehebe Crater. This spectacular, 6,000-year-old crater was a great spot for any school group.  It was fun to run all the way down the steep, gravel-strewn path. I found Ubehebe Crater to be an astounding area; the sheer scale of it nearly evaded my perceptions. In this vast area, judging distances was much harder than back home in Maryland. The beautiful, layered rock faces about us and the evidence of the volcanic explosion that had created this enormous crater provided an astounding, new environment. Laughing and fooling around, we proceeded to explore the enormous crater.

            Later that day, we continued on to camp in one of the designated camping areas, setting up our three-person tents and refilling our water bottles. Our teachers came around and checked that all our possessions were thoroughly secured, warning us that the high winds could blow things so far away that we would never retrieve them. That included our tent bags. Thankfully, no one lost theirs.

            For the rest of the week, we traveled to whatever nearby attractions the teachers thought best suited that day’s schedule and weather. I thoroughly enjoyed the hikes we took up mountains, even once stumbling upon an abandoned mine with a sort of blue-green stone scattered about its entrance. Another time we visited an old canyon. It held great examples of fossils and the boulders scattered throughout by old floods dwarfed us all. The sense of awe was overwhelming. We drove through rocky roads, passing forests of cacti and flowering bushes. I loved these sights, reveling in the open spaces and freedom. I also basked in the knowledge that it was our trip that was lucky enough to be there the same week the flowers of this rocky desert bloomed and covered this rugged landscape with their glory.

            On our final two days, we planned on camping on a snowy mountain. Though I, tucked up in my sleeping bag, found this to be a thoroughly original and enjoyable experience, we were forced to move to a lower camp site the next night. The asthmatic people had problems and one person, who had lost her sleeping bag, had been too cold to actually sleep.

            The following day, we climbed a mountain, which I am pretty certain was called Rose Mountain, and viewed the highest and lowest places in the continental U.S.

 On our final day, we visited Mosaic Canyon and the Death Valley Sand Dunes. These miniature mountains of sand are a great place for a group of teenagers to stop and explore. Despite that day’s grueling temperatures, I made my way to the top of tallest dune. I thoroughly enjoyed the marvelous vista surrounding me and wished that I could spend more time there. Mosaic Canyon’s marble walls also served to fascinate our entire group.

Upon returning home, I was happy to bathe for the first time it a week. However, I would have gladly gone weeks longer in order to see more of Death Valley. I realized, once again, that traveling and seeing strange places was something I desired with all my heart.

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