Deserts - Death Valley and Joshua Trees National Park, CA
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This page covers a few interesting places in the Sierra and desert area in the east side of California (away from the coast). These pix were taken in an adventurous winter trip (2004), during which I survived a snow storm, some foggy mornings, a few hours of icy roads, lots of detour, a flat tire, and a hit-and-run (fortunately the bad guy was later caught). Despite all the incidents/accidents, the trip was still enlightening and well-worthwhile.
Welcome to the Valley of Death, the land of extreme! Near the border to Nevada, Death Valley National Park holds the driest (< 2 inch/year) and hottest record (134F/57C) in North America and has the lowest altitude of the Western Hemisphere (282 ft below sea level). In 1849, a group of gold miners entered this narrow valley, heading toward California's gold field. Little did they know, it took them two months to passed the horrible strip, fighting against "hunger, thirst, and an awful silence." When they finally looked back at this dreadful land, one of them said, "good-bye, Death Valley." And hence the name.
You'll probably agree that visiting the Death Valley in winter is a wise idea. Let's first feel the desolation in the Devil's Golf Course. The seemingly endless rough ground is actually the remain of an ancient lake. The lake evaporated and left salt crystals of all forms, These crystals'll be forever changing with wind and rain.
The great Sand Dune are piles of sand hovering inside the flat floor of the valley. Sweeping wind created ripples on the surface of the fine grains. In between the dunes, dry cracked floor is exposed.
What a surprise to see a creek in the Death Valley! Well, it's a Salt Creek, the remain of a evaporated ancient lake. But still, salted water is better than aridity, so we have plenty vegetation around here. There're even Salt Creek Pupfishes, survivor of ancient drought, live in the salted water. Unfortunately, they are active only around February, so we didn't have the chance to pay our salute to these warriors.
It seems everybody think coyotes (Canis latrans) are ugly, but this one we met in the park was kinda cute, I think. Maybe it's just the winter dress.
Devil's Corn Field. These tough plants, thrive on salty fields, are called Arrowweed.
Other valley and desert views:
Joshua Tree National Park.
Some 140 miles east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is consist of two distinct desert ecosystems. The eastern "lower desert" is part of the Colorado Desert, features a hotter, drier weather, with less vegetation; the western "higher desert" is relatively humid and lively, with Joshua trees decorating the horizon.
Colorado Desert. The drier land. There is an abruption change of vegetation in a transition zone. The transition occur right near the frightening cholla cactus garden.
Jumbo Rocks and the Hidden Valley rock collections. These fascinating rocks are monzogranite formed over a million years ago, then were weathered and rounded into spheres over the years. Some of them were etched into eerie faces and skulls.
The Hidden Valley are surrounded by huge rocks. In the 1800's thieves used to hide their stolen cattle here. Today it's a play ground for rock climbers.
Here comes the park's namesake. Forests of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) in the Mojave desert. The name Joshua came from the biblical character, who was the successor of Moses. 19th century Mormon immigrants thought the out stretching arms of the trees resemble a praying Joshua who guided them westward. Joshua tree actually belongs to the lily family. The huge trunk is made of small fibers and thus lacks annual growth ring. But we know that a Joshua tree can live a couple hundred years.
Take a look at these interesting desert plants. Most of them were taken in the Mojave desert. These tough survivors are awe-inspiring.
Last but not the least, a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley from Keys viewpoint.
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