A while ago, my mom bought me a coffee table book called National Parks of America, ever since I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every National Park across America! We’ve been to A LOT already and eventually I’ll get around to writing posts about each one, but for now, I’m going to break down our trip to Death Valley National Park in 3 posts- part I being the history about how and why this park exists!
Death Valley became a National monument in 1933 and got it’s fame and name for being the hottest, lowest, and driest location IN THE COUNTRY! It is also the largest National Park below Alaska, stretching 3.4 million acres across two states: California and Nevada. The colorful and complex geology is one of the most interesting environments in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. The region is also the ancestral homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.
This American Indian tribe still lives and thrives in Death Valley NP. In 1983 the tribe received federal recognition and thanks to the Timnisha Shoshone Homeland Act passed in 2000, 7,000 acres of the Mojave Desert were transferred to their ownership directly.
Anthropologists estimate that humans first settled in Death Valley roughly 10,000 years ago. In 1849 a group of gold rush pioneers entered the valley, thinking it was a short-cut to California. It was these pioneers who named the spot “Death Valley” after barely surviving the trek across the area. In the late 1880s, native peoples were increasingly pushed out of their homeland due to mining companies coming in and setting up camps in the hunt for gold, silver, and borax. Most of which were unsuccessful and left crumbling mines throughout the valley that you can still visit today. The most successful mineral that was found throughout the valley was borax, but in 1910 even these most successful mining operations had ceased. You can tour these ghost towns and mines to this day!
Death Valley is so dry because winter storms moving inland from the Pacific Ocean must pass over a number of mountain ranges as they travel east. As the clouds rise with the mountains, they cool and the moisture falls as rain or snow on the western side of the mountains. By the time the clouds reach the east side most of the moisture has already been precipitated.
Death Valley is so hot due to the depth and shape of the valley. The valley is long and narrow and encircled by high, steep mountain ranges. Heat radiates from the rocks and the soil across the land. As the heated air rises, it becomes trapped by the valley walls and is then recycled back to the valley floor.
- Death Valley received it’s name from pioneers who thought the valley would claim their lives.
- The lowest point IN NORTH AMERICA is Badwater Basin sitting 282 feet BELOW SEA LEVEL. The highest point in the park being Telescope Peak, at 11,049 feet.
- 91% of the park is designated wilderness, providing the opportunity for solitude and uninterrupted views (often with quite extreme conditions).
- In the summer, temperatures soar above 120*! The hottest temperature ever recorded in the world was here at Furnace Creek and was 134*.
- Less than 2 inches of rain fall throughout the valley per year.
- Within Death Valley there are sites named: Devil’s Golf Course, Coffin Peak, and Funeral Mountains.
- The Park is home to more than 1000 species of plants (including 50 that are found nowhere else in the world), 300 species of birds, 51 species of mammals (including bighorn sheep and mountain lions), 36 species of reptiles and a handful of amphibian and fish species.
- The original Star Wars movies were filmed here and you can walk the same mountain ranges used throughout the movies!
Stay tuned for Part II where I take you through our first 3 stops!
ig: @amandac_smith/ @onanothercoast