Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 17:20 EDT

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is located in Nevada and California in the United States. Many tribes of nomadic Native Americans originally inhabited the area, like the Timbisha tribe that was present around 1,000 AD. It was discovered by American and European settlers who were searching for a shortcut to the gold mines in California. The valley was given its name by this group, despite the fact that only one of their party died there. In the late 19th and early 20th century, many boomtowns were created in order to mine ores like silver, but the only ore to be found in the valley was borax and the towns did not last long. In the 1920’s, after the valley became a popular topic in books, movies, radio shows, and television shows, tourism boomed and many resorts were built. In 1933, the area became known as Death Valley National Monument, but it was not until 1994 that the area became Death Valley National Park and was expanded by 1.3 million acres.

Death Valley National Park is found east of the Sierra Nevada between the Mojave Desert and the Great Basin Desert. Despite the park’s name, it is actually comprised of two valleys known as Death Valley and Panamint Valley, which both hold mountain ranges that extend from the north to the south. The Badwater Basin, which is located at the bottom of Death Valley, is the second lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. The park holds many playas, including the Racetrack, which is well known for its rocks, which move on their own.

Death Valley National Park encompasses North America’s hottest climate, because the area does not contain surface water. The highest temperature in the world was recorded in the park in 1913 at the Greenland Ranch, reaching 134°F. As is typical to desert climates, average daily temperatures reach over 100°F, while temperatures decrease below freezing during the nighttime. The lack of rainfall in the park is due largely to its location in transitional zone. The park contains five mountain ranges, although only the Argus Range, Sierra Nevada, and Panamint Range stop the rain from forming as air masses lose moisture content while moving up the mountains. This is known as the rainshadow effect and allows an average of 1.5 inches of rain in Badwater Valley. Heavy rainfall occasionally occurs in the park, creating flashfloods that can alter the area’s landscape.

The habitat in Death Valley National park varies depending upon the elevation, with a subalpine habitat occurring at the summit of Telescope Peak, the park’s highest peak, and a saltpan habitat at the park’s lowest point. Lower elevations, excluding the saltpan habitats, contain many types of plants including desert holly, mesquite, and Creosote bush. Other areas hold pinyon trees, juniper trees, and bristlecone woodlands. Despite the arid conditions in the park, there are over 1,000 species of plant that resides there, with over 23 species occurring only in the area. This variety is due to the park’s location in a transition zone, and many plants have adapted root systems that enable them to survive. Death Valley National Park contains 51 mammal species, 36 reptile species, 307 bird species, and 2 species of fish that are native to the area. Mammal species residing in the park include the bobcat, the coyote, the cougar, the bighorn sheep, and the kit fox. The Death Valley pupfish is one of 2 native species of fish within the park and resides in both Cottonball Marsh and Salt Creek.

There are many ways to travel through Death Valley National Park including vehicles like motorcycles, hiking, and mountain biking on established trails. Sightseeing is a popular activity for visitors and the park offers many viewing sites including Wildrose and Dante’s View, both of which are accessed by paved road. Camping sites can be reached by road as well, although many of these are not paved, and all vehicles in the park must be legal to drive on city streets. The park offers an endless number of hiking trails that vary in difficulty and a visitor’s center, which is located in the Furnace Creek resort area.

Image Caption: Badwater Basin with the Panamint Range in the distance, Death Valley, California. Credit: Scottthezombie/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Death Valley National Park