Devil’s Cornfield ~ Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park covers a vast amount of land in the Mojave Desert along the eastern California border. Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, so it goes without saying that a visitor could spend weeks exploring the unique features of this majestic place. Near Stovepipe Wells there are four interesting landmark features of Death Valley that are close by. Salt Creek, Mosaic Canyon, Mesquite Dunes and the Devil’s Cornfield can all be experienced in a one day visit to this area.
The Death Valley National Park terrain offers a wide variety of extremes that are difficult for an outsider to fathom. The tallest mountain and the lowest basin in the lower 48 states are both located within this National Park. Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, yet during the winter months it can be freezing cold. Water is scarce and the wildlife hides from view because of the extreme heat. There are towering cliffs, steep canyons, salt flats, badlands and old volcanic cinder cones. There is rarely a drop of rain that falls in this desolate place, yet flash floods that can move gigantic boulders are always a threat.
The Death Valley region is so inhospitable, that the pioneers of the old west cursed this section of Mojave Desert as being only suitable for the Devil himself. It is no coincidence that the Devil’s name describes nearly every feature of this harsh landscape. The Funeral Mountains, Badwater Basin, The Devil’s Golf Course, The Devil’s Race Track, Dante’s View, Hells Gate, Red Cathedral and Furnace Creek are the names of just a few such places in this evil expanse. Of course, Death Valley also hosts one of the most devilishly deceptive optical illusions on earth and this place is called The Devil’s Cornfield. The Devil’s Cornfield covers a vast area adjacent to Mesquite Dunes and Stovepipe Wells and from a distance it is easy to see how this place got its name.
A devilish illusion in Death Valley? … Imagine being a weary, hungry and thirsty pioneer crossing Death Valley in the days of the old wild west. The sun bears down and the summertime temperature is over 125ºF. The ground heat index is over 165ºF and when one looks in the distance, the heat waves rising from the sun scorched earth distort the view. Mirages can be seen everywhere when staring into the distance. All of a sudden, the sight of bundled shocks of corn appear on the horizon. All is saved, because where there are shocks of corn, there surely must be food, water and civilization.
The vast field of corn shocks lure many pioneers in during the early days of westward expansion. After a pioneer finally got to the promising cornfield that was seen in the distance, disappointment quickly set in. The illusion of corn shocks actually turns out to be nothing more than gigantic Arroweed clumps that stand high above the desert floor due to erosive forces. It is easy to imagine a bible thumping pioneer exclaiming that this fiendishly deceptive illusion surely must be the work of the Devil himself way back in the day. This is how the Devil’s Corn Field got its name!
One look at the photos above and it is easy to see why many pioneers were fooled by the Devil’s Cornfield when making the perilous journey through Death Valley. From a distance, the Arroweed does look like bundled corn shocks during daylight hours. The clumps of Arroweed resemble tied vertical bundles of oats, wheat or barley and these grain crops were called corn in old English long before American Maize was discovered, so even the diction is correct. During a moonlit night the Devil’s Cornfield is even more ominous, because the clumps of Arroweed seem to come alive and move around on their own. Corn Shocks are associated with Halloween and this adds to the creepy effect.
The Devil’s Cornfield is a fun place to wander around and take pictures. There are a few small roadside parking areas and these access points should be used, so the fragile vegetation is not damaged.
Winter is the best time to visit the Devil’s Cornfield because there is no excessive heat. During summer, the temperatures are hot enough to cause a pocket camera to malfunction, which happened in my case during my visit. It took hours to make the captured photos look like something other than a heat distorted blur, which is par for the course when processing pictures of the hottest place on earth!