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"We became conscious of the heat. Although it was not yet nine o'clock, the sun already beat down on us with an intensity that could be felt through our clothes, and the air, which had been cold only thirty minutes before, began to feel warm as the sun beat back, reflected from the sand and gravelly shale of the desert floor ... We stood soaking in the heat, and aware - as I have not often been before or since - of heat's kinship to light; a kinship understood not as a scientific diagram of wavelengths, but as part of the same bodily experience of exposure to the sun's rays."

"On First Setting Foot..." in SCENES IN AMERICAN DESERTA by P. Reyner Banham

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You are looking at three views of the "Devil's Golf Course" area in Death Valley National Park in California. To get close to this bizarre area, you take the West Side Road off the main road that goes from north to south through the park. This area - which is approximately 200 feet below sea level - is about seven miles north of Badwater, the lowest elevation in the U.S. (282 feet below sea level - and of course, we all had our pictures taken standing next to the sign that marks that point).

Banham's description of the heat is perfect. Though we were there in March, considered the "cooler" season in Death Valley, I have never felt a kind of penetrating heat as I did standing on this valley floor. I simply can't imagine being there in the summer.

You are looking at three views of salt beds, described as follows in one of my guides to the Park:

"As several ancient lakes evaporated, they left alternating layers of salt and gravel deposits on the valley floor. These layers are at least 1,000 feet deep and cover an area of 200 square miles [though only a much smaller portion is visible today - GG]. Moisture rises to the surface from the shallow water table, carrying salt in solution. On the surface the moisture evaporates, leaving this salt to crystallize and be sculpted into sharp ridges and spires by rain and wind. The hard crust expands and contracts as the air temperature changes."

This "golf course" - so named because in some areas the salt and dirt formations look a little like gnarly golf balls sitting on a big fairway - is made up of a variety of shapes. As the changing temperature (and tourists) cause the crust to break and tilt, the salt crystal formations seen in the bottom photo become evident. When I was looking through the viewfinder at them all I could think of was textbook photos from elementary school, showing what snowflakes look like under a microscope. The juxtaposition of the memory of frozen snowflakes with the feeling of being in the heat on the Death Valley floor was, to say the least, very strange...

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If you are interested in excellent landscape photography, take a look at NATURE'S AMERICA which captures images from around the US, or PLATEAU LIGHT which contains images from the Arizona-Utah redrock canyon country, or ARIZONA: THE BEAUTY OF IT ALL. All are reasonably priced for photography books of this type, and you'll find them endlessly enjoyable.

Also, there are many resources on the Web concerning various aspects of landscape and environmental issues, and more. Among the more interesting ones I can suggest are the Bureau of Land Management's Visual Resource Management program, the National Park Service, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

If You'd Like To Explore Some More...

There are several nature writers whose work I really enjoy reading, including Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Henry David Thoreau and Everett Ruess. To see a list of their writings, please visit the Natural Escape Writer's page, and spend some time browsing through the titles.

Entire contents of this website Copyright © 2007 Gil Gordon Associates