“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” –Psalm 23
Whether this well-known Bible passage provided the inspiration for Death Valley’s ominous name is uncertain, but credit is given to pioneers who got lost there during the winter of 1849-50. As their food supplies dwindled, they assumed none would get out alive. Two young men eventually found an escape route over the Panamint Mountains, and as the party climbed out of the valley one of them turned, looked back and said “Goodbye, Death Valley.”
Sitting in the rain shadow of the towering Sierra Nevada and Panamint Mountains, Death Valley is one of the driest, hottest and lowest places on Earth. Average annual rainfall is just 2.4 inches. The world’s highest temperature — 134.1 degrees Fahrenheit — was recorded there on July 10, 1913, and, at an average of 107.2 degrees, July 2017 in Death Valley was the hottest month anywhere on Earth since records began in 1911. In the heart of the valley is Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the second-lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere. (The highest point in the lower 48 states, 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, is just 85 miles to the northwest.)
Despite such extremes, Death Valley is a beautiful, mysterious place. Occupying 5,262 square miles along the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park encompasses mountain ranges and valleys, badlands, sand dunes, geologic formations, abandoned mines, historic sites and other wonders both natural and man-made. In the spring, after what little rain the area gets will have fallen over the winter, it comes alive with colorful wildflowers. Although visiting during the hot summer months is not advisable, Death Valley is an ideal motorcycling destination, with hundreds of miles of paved roads, improved dirt roads and unmaintained 4×4 roads.
This collection of photos comes courtesy of Peter Neuper, a motorcycle and photography enthusiast who brought his Leica M Typ 240 full-frame mirrorless camera with a Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH lens on a buddy trip to Death Valley. Four of us — Peter, Paul Beck, Marten Walkker and myself — spent a couple days exploring the national park’s unpaved backcountry roads.