No trip to Death Valley would be complete without a stop to the lowest point in North America. Badwater Basin is that point and it is located right in the heart of the Death Valley National Park.
The sign near the parking area says that the area was named Badwater because a traveler was coming through and saw that there was water for his mule to drink; however, because the water is so full of salt the mule refused to drink it and thus the name Badwater was born. A little more history on the area is as follows.
“Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 ft below sea level. At Badwater, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. Each newly-formed lake does not last long though, because the 1.9 in of average rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150 in annual evaporation rate. This, the United States’ greatest evaporation potential, means that even a 12-foot-deep, 30-mile-long lake would dry up in a single year.”
From the parking lot you can see the sea level sign that is located 280 feet above you on the adjacent mountain. It really puts in perspective how low you are when you see it compared to the mountain. You can make it out in the middle of the below photo.
After checking out the sea level sign you can start to head down to the boardwalk which leads to the pool and the salt flats.
As soon as you enter the area you are immediately greeted with a massive lake of what looks like snow. Since it is the desert it is obviously not snow, but is the left over salt from the evaporated water. This makes for a truly unique experience as you can see salt flats for as far as the eye can see. Once you enter the boardwalk above you can either walk out onto the salt or check out the Badwater pool.
The Badwater pool is a small collection of water at this time of the year and non existent during the hot winter months. Like in the story at the beginning of the post this water is so high is salt content that almost nothing can actually live there. It is interesting to see the small amount of water and you can guess how salty it is with the large chunks of salt that are peeking through the top of the water. After checking that out you can go walk out onto the salt flats. The salt itself is 5 miles long so most people do not walk all the way across. Be careful when you are walking as some of it can be brittle and actually break. As soon as you get the large concentration of salt you can start to see the unique crystals that form with the life cycle of rain and evaporation. It is really interesting and stretches on and on.
From there you can continue to explore the salt flats or head back the way that you came. Here is a little video that I made to show what it looks like when you are out on the salt.
Badwater Basin is a truly unique place to stop. You don’t really need a lot of time here, but it is worth checking out. You have probably never been this low or seen such a large concentration of salt in your life. Let me know what you think in the comments.