Badwater Basin
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Stop 15 Badwater Basin
Location: Death Valley National Park, CA.
Date: March 9, 2007

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the western hemisphere with an elevation of 85.5 m below sea level and is the best known and most visited place within Death Valley National Park.  The site derives its name from the small, spring-fed pool of water that emerges along a fault line at the base of the nearby mountain.  The accumulated salts dissolved from the surrounding basin making the spring water undrinkable and led to the site’s name of “Badwater.”  Despite the very salty (but not poisonous) water, Badwater Pool is home to pickleweed, aquatic insects, and larvae.  One of Death Valley’s rarest creatures, the Badwater snail, can also be found here.  The area around Badwater Pool has been disrupted over time by visitors trampling the salt crust and throwing debris into the water, so a boardwalk was constructed to help protect the inhabitants and to help the area recover.


The gang 85.5 m under the sea level


Badwater Pool looking north into Death Valley


Vast salt flats occupy the Badwater Basin area and form part of the impressive saltpan within Death Valley.  Rains falling on distant peaks create floods that rush down the mountains and as water flows over the rocky landscape, minerals are dissolved and enter the flow.  Upon reaching Badwater, these floods form temporary lakes.  As the water evaporates, the dissolved salts precipitate out, depositing a new layer of salt on the valley floor.  Over time, this process has resulted in the formation of a salt crust measuring up to 1.8 m thick in some places.  Layers of mud are located beneath the surface of the salt crust, and as the water evaporates and the mud beneath the surface dries, cracks develop in a polygonal pattern.  Salt growth and accumulation tends to concentrate in these cracks, forming ridges of salt along the edges of the polygons.  Sodium chloride, or table salt, comprises the majority of the salts deposited at Badwater Basin.  The salt flats undergo continuous change as older salt crystals are shaped by winds and rainfall and newer ones expand, pushing the crust into new forms.

Exposed mud beneath the salt crust


Polygonal pattern of salt flat


Fault scarps are also visible at Badwater Basin, showing evidence of recent tectonic movement in the area.  Scarps can be seen at the top of the alluvial fan as a series of gravel banks running parallel to the mountain and are dated to be about 2,000 years old.  Another fault scarp near Badwater is estimated to be only a few hundred years old.


Exposed fault scarps on an alluvial fan looking south from Badwater Basin



By Jennifer Mikolajczyk