Chapter 17-1: Weather Interlude - Spring Winds

The spring winds were blowing fiercely out of the west when we joined I-40 just before Laguna Pueblo and it was a relief to stop for the night in Flagstaff. The next morning the winds continued to roar out of the west and the winds were still howling when we drove into the park and up to Dante’s overlook. The panoramic view of the southern Death Valley basin was spectacular. It was all that I had expected and more. Far below we could see Badwater, at 280 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the United States. The white salt flats of Badwater stretched out far below us way into the northern distance and across the broad flat valley floor. The snowcapped Panamint Mountains soared to over 11,000 feet framing the western boundary of the basin with enormous alluvial fans spreading out at their base.

Badwater, Death Valley National Park

There are not many places where the elevation gain is so abrupt and so dramatic.  Death Valley is a geologist’s paradise, with miles of bare rock, uplifted, folded, faulted, eroded, dissected, distorted and exposed for the entire world to see. Would Bob enjoy the endless array of rocks and his wife twittering away about the geology but just like he was captivated by the sheer expanse of rock and salt flats. The sun was shining in the deep blue sky with the occasional wisps of clouds stretching away to the north and I knew we were in for an enjoyable time.

The next morning the winds had died down and for the next five days we enjoyed the incredible landscapes of Death Valley. When we packed up to leave, the winds had returned roaring out of the south ripping out interstate signposts. West of Holbrook an orange dust storm enveloped the countryside. Flashing police lights at the entrance to the enormous storm cloud made everyone slow down. Visibility was down to a few feet and shortly after we had crawled through the monster brown-out both lanes of I-40 were closed for the next eight hours.

Petrified Forest National Park, dust in the distance from the howling winds

We left the steady flow of semi-trucks thundering down I-40 and stopped briefly at Petrified Forest National Park where we were nearly blown off our feet as we hurried into the visitor center. Anything not battened down was flying off into the desert. We stopped at few of the overlooks to gaze out across the colorful logs lying exposed on the ground and the wondrous purple, pink and gray hues of the rock layers before the wind sent us scurrying back to the safety of our car.