About Death Valley
Famed for being the hottest, driest and lowest place in America, Death Valley reaches to a depth of 282 feet below sea level, and stretches for some 120 miles from north to south. Salt falts, sun-baked hills of colored earth, creosote bushes covering expanses of gravel, and dry washes and gullies characterize the valley, heightened by an atmosphere of silence and isolation. Mile-high Mountains rim the valley, with barren rocky outcroppings glinting in the sun.
Devoid of beautiful forests, creeks and lakes, Death Valley finds its allure in its very desolation, remoteness, barrenness and extremes of climate. Here traffic jams and stress-filled offices sound like fairy tales. A natural human curiousity about the origins of the earth awakens in each of us, and the age old rocks look like they might know the answer. Where vegetation fails to provide color, the rocks and dirt themselves shine out in surprising contrasts.
In addition to Death Valley itself, Death Valley National Park includes within its 3,372,402 acres, the Amorgosa Mountains and Black Mountains east of Death Valley, the Panamint Mountains to the west, and parts of Panamint Valley, Saline Valley, Eureka Valley and Greenweater Valley. Many interesting features lie within the park, numerous sand dunes, abandoned mines, scenic drives through canyons and displays of colored rock. Through adaptation, desert plants and animals survive the extremes of climate.
Formed by the tilting of large chunks of the earth's surface, Death Valley's low floor, bottoming out at 282 feet below sea level, is boxed in by mountains reaching as high as 11,049 feet at Telescope Peak. The mountains trap the air, to be heated another day instead of being circulated into other areas. Starting with the Sierra Nevadas, far to the west, storms carrying from the ocean drop their precipition as they rise over the succeeding mountain ridges. After crossing the Panamint Range and Telescope peak, little moisture is left and the lower ridge of mountains to the east does little to wring it out of the clouds. As a result, Death Valley receives less than 2 inches of rain annually.
Death Valley became a National Park on October 31, 1994, after being a National Monument since 1933. In the year 2003, it was visited by 853,553 visitors. California Highway 190 crosses the park east to west, accessing major points such as Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek. Badwater road heads south from California 190 near Furnace Creek, following the eastern edge of the valley past Badwater many miles before turning east out of the valley toward Shoshone. Harry Wade Road, a dirt road, continues south to the end of the valley. The North Highway leaves California 190 near Stovepipe Wells, heading into the northern portion of the valley.
In 1849, a group of pioneers crossed Death Valley in search of a route to the gold fields of California. When finally making their escape from the valley, the group bid it farewell with the words "Good bye Death Valley!" christening it with the name it is known by today. A member of this party, William Lewis Manly recorded the difficulties posed in crossing Death Valley in his autobiography.