Death Valley is a land of extremes. It is the hottest, driest, lowest, and largest (in the lower 48 states) of national parks in the United States. It is located in the southeastern desert region of California with a few sections in Nevada as well. The area offers desert diversity in the form of sand dunes, badlands, salt-flats, canyons, and mountains, along with an array of plant and animal communities who have adapted well to the unrelenting desert environment.
The area has been inhabited by Native American tribes for over 9,000 years. In 1849, the first white travelers set foot in the area and had only ended up there because they got lost on their way to the gold fields up north. They were able to find fresh water due to the springs that existed, but were stuck in the inhospitable desert valley for weeks. It was then that the term “Death Valley” came about.
From the 1880s to the early 1900s, mining ores in the area developed into a profitable business, and a few towns popped up to accommodate the miners. Salt, borax, talc, silver, and gold were all discovered in the area. In 1927, the original Furnace Creek Ranch built near natural springs was turned into a resort, the Furnace Creek Inn and Resort. Combined with the conversion of the Death Valley Ranch (also known as Scotty’s Castle) into a hotel in the 1930s, the Valley was quickly becoming a tourist destination.
In 1933, two million acres in and around Death Valley were proclaimed as a National Monument by President Herbert Hoover. Mining was quickly banned, but then later resumed. Throughout the 70s and 80s, mining became more and more limited with new and tougher environmental restrictions. In 1994, the Monument and additional surrounding areas were redesignated into a National Park, and in 2005, the last borax mine in the Park was closed.
The ideal time to visit Death Valley is mid-October to mid-May due to the extreme heat of the summer. Annual rainfall ranges from 1.5 inches in Badwater at the bottom of the Valley to over 15 inches in the surrounding mountains (with elevations up to 11,000 feet). In a good rainfall year, the Valley blooms with a colorful display of wildflowers in the spring. Over 95% of the Park is designated as a wilderness area.
See what’s left of the Rhyolite ghost town
Check out the natural mineral colors in the rocks at Artist’s Palette
See the salt flats of Badwater Basin (the lowest elevation in North America)
Take some stunning photographs at Zabriskie Point