Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert bordering the Great Basin Desert.
It contains some of North America’s most inhospitable terrain, with extreme heat that has left this desert area strangely beautiful.
Salt fields, dry parched land, sand dunes, mountains, and a lake that lies below sea level create a unique landscape in this remote valley.
Death Valley is about 225 kilometers (140 miles) long, trends roughly north-south, and is from 8 to 24 kilometers (5 to 15 miles) wide.
It has an area of about 7,800 square kilometers (3,000 square miles).
Death Valley’s Badwater Basin is the point of the lowest elevation in North America, at 86 meters (282 feet) below sea level.
The highest point in Death Valley is Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, which has an elevation of 3,366 meters (11,043 feet).
The Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, California recorded the hottest precisely-recorded temperature on earth at 56.7 °C (134 °F) on July 10, 1913.
Lack of water makes Death Valley a desert, but it is by no means devoid of life. Plant life above the microscopic level is absent from the salt pan, but salt-tolerant pickleweed, salt grass, and rushes grow around the springs and marshes at its edges.
Wildflowers, watered by snowmelt, carpet the desert floor each spring, continuing into June.
Salt Creek, a mile-long shallow depression in the center of the valley, supports pupfish.
Death Valley has over 600 springs and ponds.
Darwin Falls, on the western edge of Death Valley Monument, falls 30 meters (100 feet) into a large pond surrounded by willows and cottonwood trees. Over 80 species of birds have been spotted around the pond.
Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. It is the most colorful area in Death Valley.
Zabriskie Point is a part of the Amargosa Range located east of Death Valley, noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago—long before Death Valley came into existence.
The geologic history of Death Valley is extremely complex and involves different types of fault activity at various periods, in addition to crustal sinking and even some volcanic activity.
Rock art and artifacts indicate a human presence dating back at least 9,000 years.
Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe of Native Americans, formerly known as the Panamint Shoshone, who have inhabited the valley for at least the past millennium.
The valley received its English name in 1849 during the California Gold Rush. It was called Death Valley by prospectors and others who sought to cross the valley on their way to the gold fields, after 13 pioneers perished from one early expedition of wagon trains.
During the 1850s, gold and silver were extracted in the valley. In the 1880s, borax was discovered and extracted by mule-drawn wagons.
Towns and mining camps have come and gone. Mining companies have moved from harvesting the mineral wealth to developing the valley for tourism.
Most recently, Death Valley has become a cherished National Park, visited by humans from around the globe.
Death Valley National Monument was declared in 1933 and the park was substantially expanded and became a national park in 1994.
It is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve.
For years, scientists have been puzzled by the mysterious “sailing stones” of Death Valley. Located in a remote area of Death Valley, the heavy stones appear to move across the dried lake bed known as Racetrack Playa, leaving a trail behind them in the cracked mud. The rocks’ apparent movement has been blamed on everything from space aliens and magnetic fields to pranksters. But no one has actually seen the rocks move, which only adds to the mystery.
After more than seventy years of attempts to solve the mystery of Death Valley’s sailing stones, U.S. researchers led by Dr Brian Jackson of Boise State University have finally caught the stones in action. Rocks move when large ice sheets a few millimeters thick floating in an ephemeral winter pond start to break up during sunny days. These thin floating ice panels, frozen during cold winter nights, are driven by wind and shove rocks at up to 5 m/min (16.5 ft/min) .
If you’ve ever watched the Star Wars films — especially Episode IV – A New Hope and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi — you may not have known that you were looking at Death Valley. While you could spend several years watching each episode and searching for the places captured on film, superfan Steve Hall created a self-guided Star Wars in Death Valley tour to point out shooting locations, from the colorful hills of Artist’s Palette to the ever-shifting Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.