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.
Stunning Sights and Scenes in Death Valley
Death Valley contains millions of acres of wild and scenic land.
Tucked into that sprawling landscape are more than a few truly stunning sights, as outlined below.
Badwater Basin Badwater is the site of the lowest place on land in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. The scene is much more than an elevation marker. Seeps create small pools of water that dramatically reflect the nearby black mountains. Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley looms majestically, 11,000 feet above and across the valley. Located 17 miles south of Furnace Creek.
Dantes View Located at an elevation of 5,758 feet directly above the Badwater Basin is Dante’s View. This extremely scenic view spot provides vistas of almost all of Death Valley. One can look straight down to the Badwater Basin and directly across to the Panamint Mountains and Telescope Peak. Far off to the west, are seen the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and to the east, numerous desert mountain ranges of Nevada. Located 25 miles east and south of Furnace Creek. The last few miles of roadway are steep and narrow.
Zabriskie Point This viewpoint is accessed by a short drive and a steep short walk on a paved trail. The scene overlooks the beautifully eroded and colorful hills referred to as the badlands. Telescope Peak can be seen in the distance as well as the soaring peaks of the Funeral Range. Zabriskie Point is a favorite of photographers, providing perfect opportunities at sunrise and sunset. Located 2 ½ miles east Furnace Creek.
Golden Canyon Penetrating deep into Death Valley’s Black Mountains is aptly named Golden Canyon. Especially in the morning light, the canyon walls glow magically with a flaxen hue. Golden Canyon is a hike, but one can get an intimate feel for it by walking just a few feet past its mouth. More adventurous trekkers can choose among a number of longer hikes. Located two miles south of Furnace Creek.
Salt Creek One of the few places on the actual floor of Death Valley where water flows, Salt Creek meanders along the surface on and off for several miles. This unique environment also provides habitat for Death Valley’s only native species of fish, the Desert Pupfish. Visitors can follow a wooden boardwalk along the banks of this desert treasure on a self-guided half mile nature walk. Located 13 ½ miles north of Furnace Creek, then a one mile graded dirt road.
Mesquite Sand Dunes Just a few miles west of Stovepipe Wells Village lay one of Death Valley’s most popular attractions, the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Covering over 14 square miles, the dunes provide some of the most dramatic scenery in the Park. Sunrise and sunset are both great time to catch just the right shot. Watch for the signed turnout about 23 miles north and west of Furnace Creek.
Ubehebe Crater Most visitors are taken aback when they approach the yawning expanse of Ubehebe Crater for the first time. This “Maar” Volcano was created by a steam explosion as recent as only 300 years ago. 600’ deep and over a half mile across, visitors can take a steep path to the bottom (and back up), walk around its rim and simply stand at the edge of the parking area and take in the overwhelming scene. Located 57 miles north of Furnace Creek. The last five miles are on a narrow roadway.
Wildrose Charcoal Kilns The Death Valley area has a rich mining history. Silver, gold, borax and talc are just come of the minerals that have been mined here. The ten Wildrose Charcoal Kilns are located at 7000 feet high up in the Panamint Mountains in a Pinion Pine Forest. These nearly perfect pieces of architecture were built in 1877 to produce charcoal for nearby silver smelters. About 62 miles from Furnace Creek, the last three miles on a graded dirt road.
Artist Drive This scenic one0way, semi-loop paved road twists, winds, climbs and dips its way through some of the most colorful scenery in Death Valley. Highlight of the nine mile trip is the Artist Pallete, where hues of greens, purples, oranges, browns and yellows blend together in a kaleidoscope of color. Entrance to Artist Drive is located about 10 miles south of Furnace Creek
The early sprouting of wildflowers due to autumn rains in Death Valley is happening. This is typical of a rare ‘super bloom’ which may be what this will become once the El Nino rains start falling. This is such a rare occurrence and something truly not to be missed!!
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