One of my favorite spots in Death Valley is Zabriskie Point. From this vantage point, we were surrounded by an unearthly desert landscape filled with wild erosion lines and the vibrant color bands of dark-colored material. These are badlands — bone-dry rock finely sculpted and hued with golds, yellows, oranges, brick-reds, and browns. Only the hardiest of vegetation can meager out their lives in this intricately carved terrain. If you think the hills are stunning at first sight, try viewing at sunrise or sunset when they blossom with color.
The overlooked point was built nearly a century ago, not by the National Park Service, but by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. After so many years of use, park officials gave Zabriskie Point a much-deserved overhaul in March 2015. Today there’s a nice walkway up to the viewing point with ample seating to enjoy the scenery. Nearby, there’s a trail leading to Badlands Loop, Gower Gulch Loop, and then Golden Canyon Trail. I highly recommend the Badlands Loop, where you can immerse yourself in that alien landscape seen at Zabriskie Point. I didn’t get to go too far into the trail and I wish I had more time to explore.
Another great place to find amazing colors is Artist’s Drive. This is a scenic loop drive through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills. Along the way is Artist’s Palette, which is especially photogenic in the late afternoon light. We drove this steep, but thankfully paved road up into the Black Mountains. The rock was formed in a violent volcanic explosion during the Miocene-aged where cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris piled up to 5,000 feet thick. Chemical weathering and superheated flowing water cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions produced the visual spray colors. Iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces lavender and purple. Stopping the car, parking it somewhere safe, and getting out for a walk is a must.