While the name invokes an image of gloom and despair Death Valley is a beautiful place of natural wonder. Death Valley was named in 1849 by pioneers after a difficult crossing of the valley to reach the gold fields of the Sierras.
Death Valley is the site of the lowest point in the western hemisphere – Badwater.
From Badwater (282 feet below sea level) one can look west across the valley to Telescope peak, 11,039 feet high and often snow covered.
For five months of the year the valley experiences high temperatures and holds the record for the second highest temperature ever recorded (134 degrees F, 57 degrees C on July 10, 1913). Once the sun drops so do the temperatures, often between 30-40 degrees due to the dry air. Yet even during the cooler months of winter the days are comfortably warm, and at night the temperatures rarely drop below freezing.
During the spring, wildflowers nourished by winter’s gentle rains manage spectacular displays. The flora and fauna living on the valley floor have adapted to the desert heat and dryness in a variety of ways. Some plants have roots which grow deep into the earth and some have skins which allow very little evaporation.
Many animals are nocturnal, while many have chosen to live in the hills and mountains above the valley floor, where temperatures are cooler.
Driving through Death Valley you will notice large barren white areas of land. These are playas, the remnants of old lakes. When the water evaporated from the lake a layer of boron rich minerals up to 6 feet deep was left. Borax has been mined in Death Valley since the late 1800s and is used to make glass, fire retardents and detergents. The Borax was transported from Furnace Creek to Mojave by teams of 20 mules carrying 12 tons of borax and 1200 gallons of drinking water.
The Harmony Borax Works (an easy hike located about 1.2 miles north of the Furnace Creek campground) dates from 1883 and was the first successful borax plant in Death Valley.
Death Valley became a part of the National Park System in 1933.