Not in our case. Death Valley is famous as the hottest place in the world with a record temperature of 134F, and driest and lowest in North America with an average of less than 2 inches of rain a year and Badwater being 282ft below sea level. In our week there, temperatures were chilly and we got an inch of rain. So instead of the hottest, driest place in America, we saw storms and clouds and the power of water. (Don’t worry, it’s still the lowest point in America.)
Water in the desert is a powerful thing. A day of rain in a mountain valley devoid of trees and roots to hold down earth, and without soil to absorb the excess water means that all that water is washed down the hillside in a river of gravel and mud. It creates rivers where roads had been and shut down almost all of the side roads in Death Valley with the gravel and debris.
Our camp neighbours had to dig trenches to divert rain water from their tents, and we were warned not to do any canyon hikes (that’s all but 2 hikes) because of the water that would be rushing down the washes. For 24 hours of rain…? However, all our skepticism disappeared when even after the sun came, evidence was all over the roads and trails of the powerful force that water is in reallocating all the dirt and rocks that make up Death Valley.
Water in the desert is a beautiful thing. While we saw the earth move (literally), we also saw the new form of beauty this influx of water lent to the valley. We saw the Death Valley’s mud flats turned into enormous, absolutely still reflection pools for golden sunsets. We saw rainbows forming in clouds.
The salt marshes came to life and pupfish swam strenuously against the new currents in their stream and it was hard to separate sky from earth with all the reflections and light streaming from the new clouds in the sky.
Death Valley is famous being hot and dry, with unrelenting bright white sunlight highlighting the tremendous palette of colors in the mountains (proof below), but we felt lucky to be able to see this place on some of the very, very few days a year when it was cloudy, cool and wet.
After all, how many people can take a picture like this one (below) of the driest place in North America?