This salt flat in California is by far one of the most interesting places I’ve visited so far. Badwater Basin, located in Death Valley National Park, is a a closed basin with a depth of 86m (262ft) below sea level. This is the lowest point in North America, and it was considered to be the lowest point in the western hemisphere until Laguna del Carbón, another salt lake in Argentina was discovered.
It’s called ‘Badwater’ due to a fact that is obvious when you arrive there – any water found is undrinkable due to the accumulated salt. We arrived at Badwater during a thunderstorm, and drove through what was likely Death Valley’s annual rainfall of only 60mm! The average precipitation in the area is extremely low due to it being sheltered by four major mountain ranges, and any water that does accumulate is quickly evaporated. The only water that hangs round comes from a small spring fed pool located by the car park, which is actually home to many insects and the ‘badwater’ snail.
The salt lake is vast, and you can walk all the way across it if you want to. On arrival, we parked the car in the designated car park, and walked along the funnel of salt that leads you to the flats. It was obscenely hot outside. However, the air is dry there, and there was a strong breeze that allowed you to stay out a bit longer than you would have if there was no wind at all.
We walked around for a while, admiring the beautiful lines cast by the evaporation and continual freeze-thaw cycles, that over time push the salt crust into honeycomb hexagons, and occasionally heart shapes.
It’s really worth finding a quiet spot just to sit on the flat and take in the atmosphere for a while. The presence of the surrounding mountains, and expanse of the salt underneath you provides an unusual concoction of feelings. You almost feel like you’re being swaddled by the earth.
Tourist Tip: The cliff above the car park holds a small sign (about two thirds of the way up) that marks the sea level for some perspective as to how geographically low you are!
Also, take sunglasses. The salt flat is really bright when you’re standing on it.