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Badwater

Death Valley Pictures

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Badwater

Badwater, Death Valley

©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
Badwater is the lowest place in western hemisphere and the eighth-lowest spot in the world. Along with Salton Sea south of Palm Springs (-227 feet), it makes the United States the only country to have two locations among the world's lowest places.

Although the precise location of the lowest point (-292 feet) is not marked, a walk from the parking area leads past the salt-laden, bad-tasting watering holes that inspired the place's name. The white material you see at Badwater is mostly the same as common table salt, mixed with calcite, gypsum, and borax.

Cycles of water and dryness constantly change how the salts look. This photo was taken in February of a somewhat-rainy year, when you could see more water than at other times. If you've seen one of those gorgeous photos of the salt pan, with all those little "walls" formed by the evaporation, you may not find them during a dry year. When we visited in early 2014 after an especially dry period, the elements had more or less leveled the entire surface.

The white material you see at Badwater is mostly the same as common table salt, mixed with calcite, gypsum, and borax. Cycles of water and dryness constantly change how the salts look. This photo was taken in February of a somewhat-rainy year, when you could see more water than at other times.

Geologists call this area an example of "basin and range," but in plain English that just means it's being pulled apart. The Panamint and Black Mountain ranges are rising on either side of Death Valley, causing the valley floor to sink like a basin. Erosion does its part, washing debris out of the mountains and into the void - dumping almost 9,000 feet of sand, gravel and silt in millions of floods - but it can't keep up, so the valley floor sinks faster than it fills up.

In the parking lot, turn away from Badwater and look up on the hillside for a small sign that proclaims "sea level." It's the best way to get an idea of just how low Badwater really is.

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