Death Valley has a lot of superlatives associated with it: Hottest; driest; lowest. It is the hottest place in North America because of its low elevation and the surrounding mountains recirculate the hot air keeping it from dissipating at night. Daytime temperatures frequently reach 120 F and nighttime temperatures mat remain about 100. Death Valley is one of the driest points because the series of mountain ranges sap all the moisture from the clouds coming in from the east leaving very little rain when the clouds reach the valley. Death Valley also contains the lowest point in the lower 48 states because of the geologic makeup of the Basin and Range type of terrain. These forces continue to make the Panamint Mountain Range get higher and the Badwater Basin (lowest point in the US at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level) get lower. These unique forces allow the lowest point in the lower 48 and the highest point in the lower 48 (Mt McKinley at 14,491 feet (meters) to occur within 100 miles of each other. The geologic forces also combine with climactic and biological factors to form a unique ecosystem that provides a home to many species of animals and plants that are not found anywhere else in the world. Many people think of Death Valley as a vast wasteland; but there is actually an abundance of life here if you know where, and when, to look for it.
A short distance (maybe 7 or 8 miles) after you enter the park from the east there will be a turnoff for Zabriskie Point. From the parking area there is a short, paved path leading to the viewpoint. The mountains you see here are part of the Amargosa Range and in early September they appeared totally devoid of life. The colors were a wide range of near whites, light grays and dark grays that under the right light are almost black. Through the gaps in the mountains you can see Death Valley and beyond that the Panamint Range. The view is really quite interesting and is worth the stop.
Although there is a lot of sand in Death Valley, it is evenly distributed throughout the valley. In a few places the terrain causes the sand to be dropped to the ground all at one time. There are a total of five areas with sand dunes in Death Valley National Park. The easiest area to access is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The dunes here were formed when the winds were slowed significantly by the narrowing of the valley and the height of Tucki Mountain. These weakened winds then deposit the Quartz sand scoured from the mountains all at once to form these dunes. Because the winds are never very strong, the dunes remain in the same place with just some minor resculpturing.
For more information see my Death Valley National Park Page.
Death Valley National Monument is noted for having the hottest, driest climate in North America. There is more variety of terrains than most expect though you need to be observant and be willing to do an awful lot of driving to really see it. Within its boundaries are the 11,000 foot Telescope Peak and the valley floor which is called Badwater. It is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. This park is best visited in winter unless you are going specifically to say you drove around in 140 degree weather.
I was there in late summer in 1994 and it was still pretty hot, certainly not camping weather! This was another miss in 2008 due to bad timing. It was already hot as blazes when we came through Valley of Fire on the eastern side of Las Vegas and we couldn't see just driving through the park. Even during a six month trip, you have to make some choices. We would love to go here in winter one day along with Joshua Tree.
This is the lowest place in the continental US and one of the two hottest places on earth, with summer highs often about 120-125 F and reaching as high as 136. It is a hellish place in the summer, and is dry, barren, and rocky all year long, with almost no rainfall. However, in winter, it is pleasant, ranging from slightly cold to slightly warm, highs anywhere inthe 50s-60s F, and even in early spring it is generally pleasant, if getting hot.
A fascinating place, striking and harsh, it has extensive sand dunes, swaths of land covered in gravel and rock with nary a weed, salt flats, and historic buildings - Scotty's Castle in the NE, abandoned Borax mines, and an old charcoal kiln site. It also has camping and a few hotels, one being an historic old hotel from the 1920s.
Four separate American Indian cultures have existed in Death Valley. The Nevares Spring People, a group of primitive hunters and seed gatherers about 9000 years ago when lakes still existed in the basin then, the climate was mild and games was plentiful. Four thousand years later the culturally similar Mesquite Flat People replaced the original inhabitants. The third group, the Saratoga Spring People, arrived about 2000 years ago to a dry, hot desert. These more advanced hunters and gatherers created handcrafts and left mysterious, meticulously created stone patterns in the valley. The Desert Shoshone moved into desolate area 1000 years ago. They were nomads, living on game, mesquite beans and pinyon nuts. They camped in the valley near water sources during winter and moved into cooler mountains in summer.
California’s Abandoned Mines - Stay Out - Stay Alive!
The first white people were two groups of emigrants on their way looking for California gold. About 100 people wandered down Furnace Creek Wash in late 1849 while looking for a shortcut to the Mother Lode country. Lost and out of food, the two separate groups were forced to endure severe hardships before they could escape from the desert. Their experience provided the valley with its morbid name.
This center was bustling with loads of visitors. Here is where you'll find some park rangers to help you with information about the park. They do charge a small fee for the maps, but it is well worth it. They have a little movie presentation that explains many wonders of the park. A gift shop is on site too. Furnace creek you'll find many amenities too!
Death Valley is the lowest point in North America so a trip out there can give you something to check off your "Been There, Done That" list if you make lists of things like - highest point, lowest point, furthest east, furthest west.
It can be done in a day trip from Los Angeles but, to really be able to see and do much of what this area has to offer, two days would be better. The best time to go is Spring. The wildflowers can be spectacular if we had a good winter. Also, the temperatures are good in the Spring. Summer is way too hot (and that hot weather can last into October or November). The winter can be a terrific time to go but, if it rains a lot, it can be dangerous. Roads have washed out in the past. Always check with AAA before you go. Road closures can really mess up your plans.
The valley offers a very large assortment of activities and sights so check the park's website to decide what is best for you instead of listening to my suggestions.
Death Valley National Park is located in the eastern portion of California, about 3 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada. As its name suggests, Death Valley is a barren landscape. But the striking contrasts between the arid terrain and the mountains create a beautiful landscape. Death Valley is also an eclectic mixture of high altitude terrain and below sea level flatlands and also of golden sand dunes and brightly colored canyons. All in all, its a place much worth seeing.
For more information on this park, please visit my Death Valley page.
In spring 2005 the desert in Death Valley National Park bloomed with trillions of Desert Gold. The last time this happenes was eight years earlier, but the spring rains in southern California made the occurence more spectacular than normal.
Meet the little creatures that live in this world. Amazing how they can survive in this heat. The sand is so hot, that is was burning my feet.
You can see the photos on my Death Valley page
Oh, I loved this.... the sanddunes. To me that felt a bit like a real desert. Walking downhill like that, I didn't notice how all the sand creeped in my shoes at first... but all of a sudden... auch.... the sand is so hot! Hahaha, it was fun though :-)
Take a look at my Death Valley page for more photos and info.
Death Valley is another amazing place! This whole trip has been going from one amazing place to another, fantastic. Now I am going from the cold and snow in the Sierra Nevada to the heat in Death Valley.
It is a long road through Death Valley, and it is hot outside. Make sure that your car is in good order before you go here, and bring plenty of water. Believe me, you'll need it!
You can find more photos and info on my Death Valley page
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