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Surviving Death Valley is easy for today's visitors

BY STEVE BERGSMAN Modified: January 25, 2013 at 2:54 pm •  Published: January 28, 2013
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<<p>Much of Death Valley is a salt pan, the residue of a saline lake that existed more than 10,000 years ago, and at Badwater it is possible to access this odd natural formation.

A pathway carved into the salt flats makes for an interesting walk, but rangers warn that in hot weather even this small walk can be brutal. A spring flows here, which is how the spot got its name. Water, yes, but drinkable, not really. A sign on a cliff behind the parking area marks sea level, but people often miss it.

The next short hike is a little farther down the road at the turnoff to a natural bridge. The road here is unpaved but well maintained. After about a mile and a half there is a parking area, and from there is a short path to a bridged canyon. When we arrived at the natural bridge, a couple was there taking pictures.

"Not much when compared to Arches," the man said.

He was right, but the bridges at Arches National Park in Utah are eroded sandstone. The rocks here are harder stuff, making this bridge a very rare formation.

Still heading north, we took the nine-mile detour called Artists Palette, which is a loop through an outcropping of hard rock formations that are colorful in pinks and even blues due to mineral content.

About two miles before the park headquarters at Furnace Creek and our destination, the Inn at Furnace Creek, was a sign that said "Salt Creek Interpretive Trail."

What sounded boring turned out to be the best short hike on this route, and more aggressive hikers can take ancillary trails all the way to Zabriskie Point. We ended up getting there by car, so we were able to look out over undulating golden rock formations.

If memory serves me well, in the movie of the same name the young protagonists have a romantic interlude among the rocks, but I wouldn't suggest trying that today. The ground is hard and unforgiving, and someone in the crowd at the lookout point could take a picture with his or her phone and have the image on the Internet within moments.

WHEN YOU GO

Death Valley National Park is huge and contains diverse topography from sand dunes and salt flats to canyons and mountains. We were there for three days and still didn't get to see it all: www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm.

There are numerous places to stay at Death Valley, including motels, campgrounds and RV parks, but there is only one "jewel of Death Valley," the famous Inn at Furnace Creek. Originally opened in 1927, the resort still retains an aura of earlier times.There are only 66 rooms, but there is also fine dining, an oasis of a pool, beautiful gardens and an outstanding view: www.furnacecreekresort.com.

Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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