Death Valley is a desert valley in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert, bordering the Great Basin Desert. (Death Valley is a graben—a down-dropped block of land between two mountain ranges) The hottest, driest and lowest national park, Death Valley is well-known for its blistering summer temperatures. For that reason, the best time of year to visit is what’s considered the offseason from mid-October to mid-May. Death Valley is about 140 miles long, trends roughly north-south, and is from 5 to 15 miles wide. The valley is bounded on the west by the Panamint Range and on the east by the Black, Funeral, and Grapevine mountains of the Amargosa Range. Death Valley’s Badwater Basin is the point of the lowest elevation in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. It is 84.6 miles east-southeast of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, with an elevation of 14,505 feet. Less than 20 miles west is the 11,049-foot Telescope Peak, the area’s highest point.
Lying mostly in Inyo County, California, near the border of California and Nevada, in the Great Basin, east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Death Valley constitutes much of Death Valley National Park. It lies near the undefined border between the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. The principal feature of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve. The highest point in Death Valley National Park is Telescope Peak, in the Panamint Range, which has an elevation of 11,043 feet.
The reason for the extreme heat in Death Valley is that the air is clean and dry, and there was sparse vegetation in the ground. The air in Death Valley cools naturally as it rises, and continues to reheat when caught in the upper trap. This heated air is trapped as it is perpendicular to the winds blowing from west to east. Therefore, in the summer, the sun is very hot and the garden is very hot. The southern and eastern parts of the Death Valley are extremely desert, making it difficult to travel during this time. Severe heat and dryness contribute to perpetual drought-like conditions in Death Valley.
History and the Present
Most of the surface water in Death Valley is in the saline ponds and marshes around the salt pan. Researchers say that this is Lake Manly, which dates back to the Pleistocene era Age, roughly 10,000 – 12,000 years ago. This lake was nearly 160 km long and 600 feet deep. There has been a chain of lakes in the past in this Valley, and Lake Mano, to the north, Lake Searles, and Lake China, below the Owens River Valley, are the mainstays. As these areas were transformed into deserts, water converted into volatile salts such as sodium salts and borax. Researchers say the lakes turned into salt marshes between 1883 and 1912.
The average annual precipitation in Death Valley is 60 mm. But the average annual rainfall at the Greenland Ranch station is about 40mm. The record rainfall over a 40- month period from 1931 to 1934 was 66 mm, the longest temperature. January 1995 was the wettest month on record, with 66 mm of rainfall, and the wettest period on record was mid-2004 to mid-2005, in which nearly 50 mm of rain fell in total. Also, snowfall in the valley was only in January 1922, and with occasional small scattering.
The geologic history of Death Valley is extremely complex and involves different types of fault activity at various periods, in addition to crustal sinking and even some volcanic activity. The floor of Death Valley is noted for its extremes of temperature and aridity. A record world and North American high shaded air temperature of 134 °F (57 °C) was recorded in 1913. The highest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley was 201.0 °F, and it was recorded on July 15, 1972. Lack of water makes Death Valley a desert. Higher elevations support juniper and piñon pine.
Spring rains bring out a great variety of desert wildflowers. Most rainfall is blocked by the mountains to the west, so the valley is extremely arid. Furnace Creek and the Amargosa River flow through part of the valley and eventually disappear into the sands of the valley floor. The winter-spring season at Death Valley National Park features special programs, ranger-led hikes, stargazing parties, and wildflower outings. Cactus is rare in the lowest part of the valley but abundant on the fans farther north. In a good year, greening begins in January and flowers begin to appear in late January or February.
Most rainfall is blocked by the mountains to the west, so the valley is extremely arid. Most of the surface water in Death Valley is in the saline ponds and marshes around the salt pan.
Furnace Creek and the Amargosa River flow through part of the valley and eventually disappear into the sands of the valley floor. The winter-spring season at Death Valley National Park features special programs, ranger-led hikes, stargazing parties, and wildflower outings. Cactus is rare in the lowest part of the valley but abundant on the fans farther north. In a good year, greening begins in January and flowers begin to appear in late January or February.
The northern section of the park is dotted with volcanic craters such as Ubehebe Crater, 700 feet deep and 0.5 miles wide. The park contains a number of unique landforms. The five dune areas include the 680-foot high Eureka Sand Dunes, California’s tallest. Besides the big trees of Yosemite National Park, the park’s forests rabbits, and several types of rodents, including antelope ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, and desert woodrats, and other small mammals. The largest native mammal in the area is the desert bighorn. Lizards, snakes, and scorpions are common. Even native fish are to be found in Death Valley. The first biological survey of the valley reported 78 species of birds, but though it may seem that the only birds present are the raucous and numerous ravens.
Death Valley has over 600 springs and ponds. Darwin Falls, about 100 feet high, is located west of the monument in Death Valley, and this falls into a large pond surrounded by willow and cotton wool. About 85 of the bird species that inhabit the valley can be found around the lake. In 2005, a shallow lake was filled with heavy rainfall over the valley. Existing heat in the valley caused it to evaporate, and as a result of evaporation, a large pool of green water formed across the Valley. This lake now exists as a salt lake.
In spite of the overwhelming heat and sparse rainfall, Death Valley exhibits considerable biodiversity. With the onset of spring, the valley is adorned with a variety of flowers that last until June. Lake Sothel in the middle of the valley supports the survival of these flowers. Bighorn sheep and red-tailed hawks can be seen throughout the valley.
Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe of Native Americans. They inhabited the valley of the previous millennium, and formerly known as the Panamint Shoshone. These tribes got their name Timbisha from a rock painting in the valley, and it is called tümpisa. Some families still live in the valley at Furnace Creek. There is also a tribal group called the Maahunu who now live in the Grapevine Canyon near the site Castle of Scotty’s.
Death Valley National Park received its English name in 1849. During the 1849s, gold and silver were extracted in the valley. Thirteen pioneers volunteered to cross the valley, and one person died during the journey. That is why everyone also who went to cross this valley called it Death Valley.
Storms in October 2015 left widespread flood damage, including 1,000 miles of park roads in need of maintenance, repairs, or replacement. You can also reach Furnace Creek from U.S. Highway 95 at Beatty, using state Route south through Daylight Pass and then, from Shoshone, California, using state Route 178 through Jubilee Pass. Overnight accommodations in Death Valley also include hotel and motel rooms and cabins at Furnace Creek. Several ghost towns are located around the valley, and some still contain ruined buildings.