Road to Death Valley

Road to Death Valley


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The team at Wallpprs


January 18th, 2016

What is Death Valley?

The largest national park south of Alaska, Death Valley is known for extremes: It is North America’s driest and hottest spot (with fewer than two inches/five centimeters of rainfall annually and a record high of 134°F), and has the lowest elevation on the continent—282 feet below sea level. Even with its extremes, the park still receives nearly a million visitors each year.

Named features on maps of Death Valley National Park include the Funeral Mountains, Coffin Peak, Hell’s Gate, Starvation Canyon and Dead Man Pass - this is clearly a place with a bad history, reflecting the troubles and misfortunes endured by the pioneers who first traversed, inhabited and mined the region during the end of the last century. But despite the foreboding reputation, visitors today will find a place of amazing beauty with many colorful rocks and canyons, miles of pristine sand dunes, unique evaporative salt features and even a diverse range of wildlife. The park also contains many relics from a hundred and fifty years of history, which give an insight into the harsh life of the early settlers - borax and metal ore mines, ghost towns, charcoal kilns and other ruins. Petroglyphs and ancient foot-trails provide evidence of the Shoshone Indians who lived here even earlier.

The valley is a long, low depression set in largely barren and unpopulated country of desert plains and rocky ridges, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is over 130 miles long, but only around 12 miles wide, running roughly north-south near the border with Nevada. From an elevation of 1000 meters at the north end, the land slopes down steadily and for 70 miles the floor is below sea level, reaching a low point of -282 feet (-86 meters) at Badwater, the lowest point in the Western hemisphere. The depth of the depression is partly responsible for the extreme high temperatures, which can exceed 130°F in summer. High, unvegetated mountains of sombre reddish colour flank the narrow valley on both sides; a few are high enough to have snow for many months of the year.

The protected area, proclaimed a National Monument in 1933, was extended in 1994 (by the Desert Protection Act) to include an additional 1200,000 acres, mainly in the little-visited northwest section, and was upgraded in status to a National Park; this now covers 3 million acres, making it the largest in the US outside Alaska. Nearly 550 square miles are below sea level. There are many interesting sites and viewpoints beside the paved roads, and a good selection of short to moderate trails, but the majority of the area is reachable only by 4WD tracks or long cross-country hikes, this latter possible only during winter and spring owing to the high temperatures and lack of water at other times. 

How was it named?

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.” 

Interesting facts about Death Valley:

  • The highest mountain in the park, 11,049-foot Telescope Peak, lies only 15 miles from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the U.S. The vertical drop from the peak to Badwater Basin is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.
  • Named by gold prospectors struggling through the area in 1849, Death Valley has been inhabited by Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans; gold prospectors, including slaves; Chinese immigrants mining for silver and borax; Basque immigrants who settled here at the turn of the 20th century; and Japanese Americans temporarily interned here during World War II.

Tags: National Parks Death Valley Hell's Gate

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