The next stop on our itinerary was Badwater Basin. According to legend, one of the early prospectors came across this small body of water and couldn’t get his mule to drink from it. Thus, he called this “bad water” and the name stuck. The water, it seems, is not poisonous, but simply undrinkable due to the mineral deposits.
Stark beauty aside, Badwater is pretty much a godforsaken place. In addition to that slight problem with the water, it is 280 feet below sea level, there is no vegetation whatsoever, and the temperature routinely eclipses 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Taking all that into consideration, I would have expected any sensible living thing to avoid this area at all costs. This brings me to two conclusions - 1) tourists are crazy. 2) There are crazier things than tourists, and they are called Badwater Snails. These little critters actually live in the brine of Badwater Basin. Talk about resilience, strength of character, standing up in the face of adversity, and being stuck in a really, really, really lousy situation.
Like the Devil’s Golf Course
, and probably a large portion of the Valley, the floor of Badwater Basin was covered with the white stuff that we now recognized as crystallized salts. Over time, the steady stream of visitors have trudged a white-colored path heading into the basin away from the parking lot. We followed the path and wandered around. A member of the Green Tortoise tour group that was also visiting the Basin at that time suddenly pointed up to the side of the mountain and said “What’s that sign up there on the mountain?”
I looked up, even though he obviously wasn’t talking to me. The sign, about 200 feet above where I was standing, had two large words – “SEA LEVEL”. Yep. There you have it, folks.
This is the lowest spot in the entire western hemisphere. Incidentally, the highest point in the 48 contiguous states is Mt. Whitney, no more than a hundred miles away from here.
As the sun started to set, we drove out to of the park to the nearby Beatty to find a place to spend the night. Nested in its own crib of mountains, the Valley is truly isolated from the rest of civilization. Stars usually hidden by light pollution began to appear one after another, high above in the night sky. I believe it was Bessie Johnson who said, “You may have cities and electric lights, movies, dancing parties, and surging crowds; but, for a thrill, an emotion, a sense of peace, and a confidence in a God who cares, give me moonlight in the Desert.”