The beauty of the western deserts is something that I have learnt to appreciate over the years. Coming from a wet temperate climate my baseline is numerous shades of green and I initially experienced absence of that colour as a shortcoming. Now as I look out across the varied and muted colours of Searles Valley, over the salt flats, towards the peaks in the western side of Death Valley, I find it hard to drag my gaze from the astounding beauty. Its character changes from the clear defined lines of early morning to the hazy washed out tones of noon to the blush shades of sunset. It’s a landscape to absorb through the eyes, embed in the memory, lose oneself in.
We’re parked in a natural shallow bowl at Trona Pinnacles. The slopes of eroded Tufa rise around us creating a circular nest, the few breaks allowing access in and a window out across the valley. Atop the barricade, standing at regular intervals are the pinnacles themselves, towers watching over us.
It’s a five mile trek down a dirt road to access this gem but worth every foot of washboarding. From a distance, the Pinnacles look like a group of giant termite hills rising from the flat valley floor, their scale only becoming evident the closer we get.
Underfoot the eroded tufa is hard, crunchy and noisey. Close up it has a similar structure to coral, is very porous and every bit as sharp. It’s a type of limestone and these columnar formations had their origins in the saline lake that once covered the area. Whatever their provenance and however interesting they may be in and of themselves, it is the surrounding tableaux that holds the true beauty, a backdrop that insists on taking centre stage, the outlines of the convoluted mountains slowly re-emerging in the late afternoon light, the pale sky darkening a shade, the gentle colours seeping back in for the last hour of the day.