Photo of the Day: Maroon Bells – Aspen, Colorado

In 1965 eight climbers died on the two peaks that make up the Maroon Bells in five separate accidents. Since then the Forest Service has referred to the Maroon Bells (both peaks are above 14,000 feet/4,267 meters high) as the Deadly Bells.  Despite the macabre nickname, the Maroon Bells, near Aspen, are among the most photographed destinations in Colorado. 

This shot was taken from Maroon Lake. 

Maroon Bells, Colorado

 

 

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Sailing Stones – The Racetrack, Death Valley National Park, California

No one knows for sure why boulders move around a gorgeously vacant area of California’s Death Valley National Park called The Racetrack, but they do. Big rocks, small rocks–they all creep around the incredibly flat expanse leaving a clearly visible trail behind to mark their mysterious path.

One theory is that the rocks sail across the land when the right amount of water slicks up the clay and the right amount of wind propels them across it, hence their nickname: sailing stones. We don’t really care what the explanation is we just wanted to see them for ourselves but that turned out to be easier said than done.

To reach The Racetrack you have to drive 27 miles down Racetrack Road, a vehicle busting dirt track. We blew out a shock absorber on our way to The Racetrack but we still fared better than the poor sod we saw on the side of Racetrack Road who had not one but two flat tires.

Worth it? You bet. And if you hurry you can check it out for free. National Park Week 2012 is in effect until April 29 with free admission to all national parks, national monuments and national historic sites.

Race Track Road - Death Valley National Park

The reach The Racetrack (aka Racetrack Playa) and its amazing moving rocks you have to drive 27 miles down Racetrack Road past the Ubehebe Crater and over enough bumps to bust a shocks absorber (we did).

 Teakettle Junction on Racetrack Road - Death Valley National Park

Teakettle Junction on Racetrack Road is marked by one of the more free-form national park signs you’ll ever see.

Panorama of Racetrack Playa - Death Valley National Park

Panorama of The Racetrack, a dry lake bed in Death Valley National Park, where scientists are at a loss to explain how or why rocks appear to move around by themselves.

Racetrack Playa from the Grandstand

The Racetrack from atop a rock formation called the “Grandstand” in California’s Death Valley National Park.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones - Death Valley National Park

One of the so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around a dry lake bed called The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones - Death Valley National Park

One of the so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around a dry lake bed called The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park leaving trails behind them.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stone - Death Valley National Park

One of the so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park leaving weird, smooth trails behind them.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones - Death Valley National Park

More of the so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones - Death Valley National Park

One of the so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around The Racetrack  in Death Valley National Park in California.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones - Death Valley National Park

A group of so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park leaving trails behind them which sometimes create intricate designs in the dry lake bed.

Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones - Death Valley National Park

A group of so-called sailing stones which mysteriously move around The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park leaving trails behind them creating intricate designs in the dry lake bed.

Ubehebe Crater - Death Valley National Park

Your journey to The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park begins here at Ubehebe Crater.

 

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Extremely Beautiful – Death Valley National Park, California

To say that California’s Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes is to enter yourself in the Understatement of the Century contest.

Death Valley National Park is the hottest park in the nation. On July 10, 1913 a temperature of 134 °F (56.7 °C) was measured at Furnace Creek Inn, the highest temperature ever recorded in North America. Daily summer temperatures of 120 °F (49 °C) or greater are common. On the other hand, the mercury can dip well below freezing at night in the winter.

Death Valley National Park is also the driest park in the US. In some years the bottom of the valley, at Badwater Basin, is teased with 1.5 inches (38 mm) of rain. Some years it registers no rain at all. Badwater Basin, at 282 feet (-86 meters) below sea level, is also the second lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and the lowest point in North America. Nearby Telescope Peak, by contrast, is the highest point in the park at 11,049 feet (3,368 meters) above sea level.

There’s even an area where the rocks move on their own.

Death Valley National Park is also the largest National Park in the lower 48 states. Part of the Mojave and Colorado deserts UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, the sprawling park is sandwiched between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Nevada border and contains valleys, canyons, sand dunes, salt flats, playas (dry lakes) and mountains.

In our continuing celebration of National Park Week 2012 (April 21-29), when admission to every National Park, National Monument and National Historic Site in the country is free, we present the extremely beautiful Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley National Park sign

Entering Death Valley National Park in California.

Death Valley panorama from Dantes View

This sunrise panorama of Death Valley National Park was taken from Dantes View. The Badlands Basin salt flats, the lowest point in North America, is seen 5,757 feet (1,755 meters) below. Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at 11,049 feet (3,368 m), lies directly across the valley.

Death Valley 200 feet below sea level sign

Much of the valley bottom in Death Valley National Park lies below sea level.

Road to Badwater Basin Death Valley National Park

The road snakes its way to Badwater Basin salt flats, seen in the distance, which is the lowest point in North America.

Lowest point, Badwater Basin Death Valley

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America.

Badwater Basin salt flats, Death Valley National Park

The surreal landscape of Badwater Basin salt flats in Death Valley National Park in California.

Badwater Basin Death Valley National Park

Karen at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, the lowest point in North America. The point we’ve highlighted on the rock wall is 282 feet up and marks sea level. The spot doesn’t look that high up in this photo, but that’s because the top of the mountain directly above it is 7,857 feet high, or 8,139 feet (2,481 meters) above sea level. Land of extremes, indeed.

Badwater Basin Death Valley 282 feet below sea level

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park in California.

View from Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park in California.

Formations in 20 Mule Team Canyon, Death Valley

Formations in the fabulously-named 20 Mule Team Canyon in California’s Death Valley National Park.

Titus Canyon Road Death Valley

Titus Canyon Road is a one-way 4×4 road that drops more than 5,000 feet from outside the park near the art-filled ghost town of Rhyolite into Death Valley through this slot canyon. We got a flat tire at the beginning of this road.

Borax was mined in Death Valley in the 19th century at the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek. It was very difficult to get the valuable commodity out to market so Frank M. “Borax” Smith created a 20 Mule Team to transport the product. This is what remains of his wagons.

Death Valley Ranch or Scotty's Castle Death Valley

Death Valley Ranch, aka Scotty’s Castle, was once a private home. Now it’s an unexpected sign of human habitation in this harsh environment. 

Mosaic Canyon slot canyon

Karen hiking through Mosaic Canyon slot canyon in Death Valley National Park.

Road through Death Valley

A ribbon of road through Death Valley National Park in California.

Death Valley road

Paved, but still gorgeously desolate in Death Valley National Park.

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National Park Week Inspiration

If you ask us, it ought to be National Park Year but, for now, we’re happy to be celebrating the annual National Park Week (April 21-29, 2012) put on by the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the National Parks (see the story we did about park funding for National Geographic Traveler to learn more about why our national parks need an official charity).

The locations included in the United States National Park System represent some of the most spectacular and largest (87 million acres) tracts of protected land on the planet. During National Park Week (April 21-29) entry to all 397 national parks, monuments and historic sites across the United States (and Puerto Rico) is totally free. So, there goes that excuse.

The first two years of our Trans-Americas Journey were spent in the United States where we  visited 123 National Parks, National Monuments and National Historic Sites. The photo montage, below, includes shots taken as we entered 68 of them.

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US National Parks signs

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Photo of the Day: Mount McKinley, Denali National Park Alaska

Mount McKinley is also known as Denali, an Athabascan Indian word that means “The High One.” And it is. McKinley is the tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet (6,194 meters). The mountain is most often photographed from within Denali National Park but we got this shot of McKinley from the south side after finding a locals-only vantage point on a remarkably clear day.

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Like what you see? Eric has started putting his very best photos of our very best Trans-Americas Journey adventures (including this one) up for sale on our new online photo store. Choose the photos you want then pick the size and have them professionally printed on traditional photo paper, canvas, thinwrap or even metal. Finished prints are delivered to your door.

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Photo of the Day: Antelope Canyon, Navajo Nation, Arizona

Tsé bighánílíní. That’s the Navajo name for Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Indian Reservation outside Page, Arizona. The phrase means “the place where water runs through rocks” which is appropriate since this photogenic slot canyon was formed by water and continues to flood during seasonal rains. Clear skies and sun greeted us during our visit to this amazing natural formation allowing Eric to capture this dramatic shaft of light.

Antelope Canyon, Navajo Nation, Arizona

 

Like what you see? Eric has started putting his very best photos of our very best Trans-Americas Journey adventures (including this one) up for sale on our new online photo store. Choose the photos you want then pick the size and have them professionally printed on traditional photo paper, canvas, thinwrap or even metal. Finished prints are delivered to your door.

If you see a shot on our website or blog that you want but you can’t find it on our online store just let us know and we’ll get you a print of the exact shot you want.

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