Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point

March 31, 2020

Deathvly513c_26feb20 (003)

Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

In morning light, the creamy golden-yellows and chocolate browns of Zabriskie Point’s sculpted badlands seem to glow, as in this photograph, taken on February 26, 2020, in Death Valley National Park on the California-Nevada border. The vast park’s playas and the Furnace Creek oasis lie just beyond erosional formations like Manly Beacon, prominent here, while ridges and peaks of the Panamint Mountains rise to the west.

The startling terrain of today’s Zabriskie Point is being carved mostly from Furnace Creek Formation mudstones, composed of fine silts, clays and volcanic ashfalls deposited as sediments in prehistoric lakes some three to five million years ago, as well as ancient lava flows. Rainfall here — the driest and hottest locale in North America, as well as the lowest (-282 feet/-86 m below sea level at Badwater Basin) — can be periodic but intense, so when storms drench the vegetation-sparse northern Mojave Desert landscape, the moisture doesn’t soak into the ground but rather gathers and careens in flash floods down slopes, rills and gullies, eroding the soft mudstones.

Zabriskie Point is named for Christian B. Zabriskie (1864-1936), who was vice president of the Pacific Coast Borax Co. and managed operations in Death Valley during the transition from borax mining in the area to tourism. The palm-fringed Inn at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek Inn) opened nearby in 1927. Death Valley was declared a national monument by U.S. President Herbert Hoover in early 1933, and was expanded and re-designated a national park by the U.S. Congress in 1994, with more acreage added in 2019. It’s the largest national park in the United States outside of Alaska, encompassing 3,372,402 acres (1,364,762.67 hectares).

Photo Details: Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; ISO equivalent: 220; Focal Length (35mm): 45.