Our final morning in the Owens Valley was spent driving up into the Panamint Mountains. We had to traverse this mountain range and having Telescope Peak (3368m high) in the background was an incredible journey. We drove down into the Panamint Valley and then over into Death Valley, where we stopped at the Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes. Me and a few of my friends decided to trek to the highest dune in the field called the ‘Star Dune’; it looked like a great idea, as it wasn't too far away or too high. But when you’re walking through steep sand in 40 degrees, it is an immense task. Making it to the top of this dune was one of the highlights of my trip, giving some amazing views throughout Death Valley.
After we made it back to the vans we headed to our campsite, Furnace Creek. This campsite was attached to a resort which, in past years, had been a hub of activity with restaurants, bars, and other amenities. However, with renovations being undertaken, we were left a little sparse - fortunately, there was a naturally heated pool which was a godsend after long hot days in the field. We had a full day in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (around 37+ celcius) where we went down to the Badwater Saltpan. This had huge alluvial fans bigger than Ben Nevis and an amazing canyon called Natural Bridge where a huge natural rock formation spanned the canyons width.
On our final day, we spent the morning at some rock sections along the Beatty cut-off road. These sections were actually old deposits from the edge of a lake, which meant there had been an incredibly deep lake in Death Valley thousands of years ago. This was pretty amazing stuff to see! After this we began the drive to Las Vegas, which in itself was spectacular because of the scenery. When we entered the infamous city, everything was huge. There was no expense spared, the New York New York hotel where we stayed was amazing, right on the main strip and close to the MGM Grand where we had breakfast buffets, nights out and incredible food.
Las Vegas was typically American. Crazy costumes, people partying everywhere and everyone relaxing was a great experience to have. This trip was made completely possible by Dr Matthew Watkinson and Dr Mark Anderson who had an incredible wealth of knowledge about EVERYTHING we could have needed from the geology, the geography, places to eat and drink and how we should represent the university around the USA. I don’t know of any university that can provide a field work trip with industry quality teaching around such a range of knowledge from oil reserve dynamics to climatic changes.
As I'm now travelling back to the UK, I will give some more updates when I return, thanks to everyone who made this happen!