Death Valley is famous among geologists because it offers the chance to study a variety of exposed and accessible ancient rock.
The mountains of Death Valley are dry and sparsely vegetated, supporting some grasses and the odd creosote bush and cactus.
Caltech's John Grotzinger, lead scientist for the Curiosity Mars rover mission, likes to get white cars for his geology field trips, so he can use the vehicles as mobile dry erase boards.
A coachwhip — a fast-moving, nonvenomous snake — cruised through the courtyard of our hotel in Shoshone, Calif., on April 30, 2012.
A rusty old bed frame bakes in the Death Valley sun. Many prospectors came here in the early to mid-20th century to seek their fortunes in precious metals, but few struck it big.
John Grotzinger, lead scientist for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, talks about the geologist's craft on April 30, 2012, during a field trip to California's Death Valley.
Fossilized billion-year-old stromatolites — structures created by sediment-trapping microbial mats — in California's Death Valley.
An old talc mine in Death Valley. Nearby are great fossils of billion-year-old stromatolites, mound-like structures built by sediment-trapping microbial mats.
Caltech's John Grotzinger, lead scientist for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, discusses Death Valley geology and points out our route up a slope on May 1, 2012.
An ancient lake bed sits beyond a mountain range in Death Valley.
A group of science reporters hikes up a Death Valley slope on May 1, 2012.
SPACE.com reporter Mike Wall atop a ridge in Death Valley on May 1, 2012.
Sand dunes in the distance near the southern edge of Death Valley.
One of the convoy's cars got a flat tire on the afternoon of May 1. It's not easy to change a tire on a 2012 Chevy Suburban, especially if there's no manual in the glove box telling you where the well-hidden jack is.
Sperry Wash, near the southern edge of Death Valley.
A zebra-tailed lizard perches on a rock in Sperry Wash, near the southern edge of Death Valley.
A "dropstone" (gray rock at center-left) sits wedged among the many layers lining Sperry Wash. Scientists think this stone was deposited by a melting iceberg 600 million years ago or so, showing that much of the Earth was glaciated at the time.
This is apparently the world's tallest thermometer. It advertises a Bob's Big Boy restaurant in the town of Baker, Calif., south of Death Valley.