For many years now, one of the destinations which was at the top of my To-Do list in Death Valley was the hike to the Actual Lowest Point. For the sake of my friends and family who will be reading this trip report but have not visited Death Valley very much, or at all, let me explain a few things which will tell you why this destination is so important. As you can probably guess, the lowest spot on the planet is the shoreline of the Dead Sea, which is a salt lake in between Israel to the west and Jordan to the east. Current estimates (as of January 2013) put the elevation of the Dead Sea shoreline at -1,388 feet, (or 1,388 feet below sea level.) However, the Dead Sea is dropping down at a rate of about 3 feet per year, which it has been doing for the past 50 years or so. This means that the lowest point on earth continues to get lower by 1 foot every four months. (In fact, the sign at Badwater states that the Dead Sea is at -1,360 feet.) Moving over to Death Valley National Park, there are at least 2 spots on the Badwater Basin salt flats which register -282 feet, (or 282 feet below sea level.) The reason this is important is that this happens to be the lowest spot on this side of the planet, otherwise known as the Western Hemisphere. As you can imagine, it is quite a thrill to walk out to the exact spot which is the Lowest Point and know you are standing on the lowest spot of North America, South America, and all other places which are found on this half of the planet. The problem is... this spot is not easy to find or get to, for most people at least. The casual tourist who arrives in Death Valley planning to visit the lowest spot probably drives his car out to Badwater, parks in the parking lot, and walks down the stairway and across the boardwalk to the Badwater sign. The sign there reads "Badwater Basin -282 feet". What that tourist doesn't realize is that he's not standing at the Actual Lowest Point, he's really standing at -280 feet. To find the Actual Lowest Point, he would have needed to hike out across the salt flats approximately 3.2 miles to get to it.
In order to accomplish this remarkable feat, a long-time friend of mine who works in Death Valley kindly loaned me his GPS unit for the day. He also programmed the coordinates I would need and briefly showed me how to use the device, which many people are very familiar with, but I had never used before doing this hike. Armed with the GPS, Daria and I set out at the Badwater parking lot one hot morning to find the Actual Lowest Spot. And sure enough, our GPS led us right to it. When we got there, we took photos with the 2 markers which are there: the -282 stone and the Actual Lowest Point plaque. When we were finished, we wrapped the plaque back up in the salty plastic bag and left it on the salt for the next visitor to discover. (2010 update-- since the time of writing, the plaque was likely washed away in a flood, but the rock remains.) (2013 update-- the original -282 rock is now gone but another rock is in its place-- see pictures at bottom.)