Death Valley National Park
“In 1849 emigrants bound for California’s gold fields strayed into the 120-mile long basin, enduring a two-month ordeal of “hunger and thirst and an awful silence.” One of the last to leave looked down from a mountain at the narrow valley and said, “Good-bye, Death Valley.”” – National Geographic
Straddling the California and Nevada border, east of the Sierra Nevada, Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and known for it’s extremes. It is the hottest and driest place in North America due to its lack of surface water and low relief and consists of rolling sand dunes, snow-white salt flats, arid badlands, narrow canyons, and towering mountains. The lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, sits at 282 feet below sea level, while Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, only 15 miles away from Badwater Basin, but is 11,049 feet tall – a rise of 11,331 feet over the valley floor.
The long, low depression of the valley itself is approximately 130-miles long and is actually a graben, which is a depressed block of the Earth’s crust that is bordered by parallel faults – Essentially these faults are pulling apart leaving the valley to sink. Being a rain-shadow desert where the nearby mountain ranges drain all the moisture from incoming weather systems and stop the rain from reaching the other side
President Herbert Hoover proclaimed the area to be a national monument in 1933 and in 1994, the Desert Protection Act substantially extended that area to include an additional 1,200,000 acres, mainly in the little-visited northwest section. At that time, the monument was upgraded to a National Park and now covers over 3 million acres with nearly 550 square miles are below sea level.
The badlands below Zabriskie Point
I had driven through Death Valley National Park years ago (twice, actually) when I didn’t really appreciate landscapes like I do these days. Even having been there, I still didn’t really know what to really expect going back this spring for some camping, hiking, and photography.
I think it’s safe to say that it blew my expectations out of the water…
Red Pass above Titus Canyon
- On the afternoon of July 10, 1913, the United States Weather Bureau recorded a high temperature of 134 °F (56.7 °C) at Greenland Ranch (now Furnace Creek) in Death Valley. This temperature stands as the highest ambient air temperature ever recorded at the surface of the Earth.
- Badwater Basin, (-282 feet), the lowest point in North America. At 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the north west.
- July is the hottest month, with an average high of 115 °F (46 °C) and an average low of 88 °F (31 °C).
- Death Valley is North America’s driest spot, receiving about 1.5 inches (38 mm) of rainfall annually at Badwater (some years fail to register any measurable rainfall)
- In October 2015, several storms struck Death Valley National Park, resulting in what the U.S. Geological Survey called a “thousand-year-flood event.” At Scotty’s Castle, a Mission Revival villa that an eccentric millionaire built in the north of the park in the nineteen-twenties, three inches of rain fell in five hours.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Badwater Basin from Aguereberry Point