No trip to Death Valley National Park would be complete without visiting its claim to fame – Badwater Basin – the lowest elevation point in North America. At 282 feet below sea level, the basin is fully enclosed by surrounding mountains with no drainage to bodies of water. Thus, it fills with water on the occasions it does rain, as the runoff from the mountains has nowhere to go. Hence the name “basin”, and why flash floods have to be taken seriously here.
The surface of the basin consists mostly of a salt flat that is famous for its three-dimensional hexagonal outlines caused by changing temperatures and evaporation processes. A permanent, very small pool of water does exist in the basin, but is so called “badwater” because the high salt content renders it non-potable. The water is viewable from a small boardwalk near the parking area.
The extreme temperatures of the basin cause most trips to it to be quick, but it is possible to hike five miles out onto the salt flats. There is no trail aside from the worn down path nearest the parking lot, so hikers must be careful to keep track of where they started and bring plenty of water. As the temperatures were in the eighties, ninety at most, the day we visited, we ventured out what we guessed to be three-quarters of a mile onto the salt flats to get to where the hexagonal shapes were most photogenic (closer to the parking lot, they are darker in color (or dirtier?) and the shapes are not as pronounced). We had hoped to hike farther out, but it did feel quite hot out there so we settled for just taking some photos and appreciating it for a few minutes.
As we headed back, we noticed that we were really the only ones at the moment venturing out to the most scenic parts of the flats. Even those who had ventured out a little were still seeing less pristine parts of it. We were not sure if it was less pristine from human traffic or whether the hexagons just didn’t form as cleanly on the outer edges. Regardless, though its certainly smart to know your limits in the heat, when possible, we would urge anyone going just to venture out a little bit like we did to get the best effect!
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include photos of our very HOT, but gorgeous site at Furnace Creek Campground that we left on this particular day.