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Death Valley National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)
Location California and Nevada, USA
Nearest city Pahrump, Nevada
Coordinates 36°14′31″N 116°49′33″W / 36.24194°N 116.82583°W / 36.24194; -116.82583Coordinates: 36°14′31″N 116°49′33″W / 36.24194°N 116.82583°W / 36.24194; -116.82583
Area 5,262 sq mi (13,629 km2)
5,233 sq mi (13,553 km2) federal
Established February 11, 1933 (Monument)
October 31, 1994 (National Park)[1]
Visitors 744,440 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service
Map of the park showing old Monument land (light green) and the expanded Park land (dark green)


Death Valley National Park is a National Park located east of the Sierra Nevada in the arid Great Basin of the United States. Parts of the park are in southern Inyo County and northern San Bernardino County in Eastern California, with a small extension into southwestern Nye County and extreme southern Esmeralda County in Nevada. In addition, there is an exclave (Devil's Hole) in southern Nye County. The park covers 5,262 square miles (13,630 km2), encompassing Saline Valley, a large part of Panamint Valley, almost all of Death Valley, and parts of several mountain ranges.[1] Death Valley National Monument was declared a U.S. National Monument in 1933, placing the area under federal protection. In 1994, the monument was redesignated a national park, as well as being substantially expanded to include Saline and Eureka valleys.[1]

It is the hottest and driest of the national parks in the United States. The second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere is in Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The park is home to many species of plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh desert environment. Some examples include creosote bush, Bighorn Sheep, Coyote, and the Death Valley Pupfish, a survivor of much wetter times. Approximately 95% of the park is designated as wilderness.[2] Its wilderness area covers 4,774 square miles (12,360 km2), making it the largest in the Lower 48 states, and the sixth largest in the United States overall. Death Valley National Park is visited annually by more than 770,000 visitors who come to see its diverse geologic features, desert wildlife, historic sites, scenery, and clear night skies.[3]

Mining was the primary activity in the area before it was protected. The first documented non-Native Americans to enter Death Valley did so in the winter of 1849, thinking they would save time by taking a shortcut to the gold fields of California. They were stuck for weeks and in the process gave the valley its name, even though only one of their group died there. Several short-lived boom towns sprang up during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to exploit minor local bonanzas of gold. The only long-term profitable ore to be mined, however, was borax, a mineral used to make soap and an important industrial compound. Today, borax is an essential component of high-temperature resistant boro-silicate glass products, for example Pyrex cookware. Twenty-mule teams were used to transport ore out of the valley; helping to make it famous and the subject of books, radio programs, television series, and movies.

The natural environment of the area has been shaped largely by its geology. The valley itself is actually a graben. The oldest rocks are extensively metamorphosed and at least 1.7 billion years old.[4] Ancient warm, shallow seas deposited marine sediments until rifting opened the Pacific Ocean. Additional sedimentation occurred until a subduction zone formed off the coast. This uplifted the region out of the sea and created a line of volcanoes. Later the crust started to pull apart, creating the current Basin and Range landform. Valleys filled with sediment and, during the wet times of glacial periods, with lakes, such as Lake Manly.

Contents

Geographic setting

Desert and abandoned radiator water tank near Grapevine

There are two major valleys in the park, Death Valley and Panamint Valley. Both of these valleys were formed within the last few million years and both are bounded by north–south-trending mountain ranges.[5] These and adjacent valleys follow the general trend of Basin and Range topography with one modification: there are parallel strike-slip faults that perpendicularly bound the central extent of Death Valley. The result of this shearing action is additional extension in the central part of Death Valley which causes a slight widening and more subsidence there.

Uplift of surrounding mountain ranges and subsidence of the valley floor are both occurring. The uplift on the Black Mountains is so fast that the alluvial fans (fan-shaped deposits at the mouth of canyons) there are small and steep compared to the huge alluvial fans coming off the Panamint Range. Fast uplift of a mountain range in an arid environment often does not allow its canyons enough time to cut a classic V-shape all the way down to the stream bed. Instead, a V-shape ends at a slot canyon halfway down, forming a 'wine glass canyon.' Sediment is deposited on a small and steep alluvial fan.

Throughout the western United States, a series of generally north-south running mountain ranges tower over intervening valleys. When the valley has no outlet for water runoff, it is termed a basin. This is the case in many of the interior valleys of the western part of the United States, and had led to the geographical term of "basin and range" for the entire area. When sufficient precipitation over extended periods of time wash small earthern particles into the lowest points in the valley, a flat surface of fine sediment can form. Due to the overwhelmingly arid conditions found here, the water covering this surface is temporal, evaporating quickly. A playa is then left behind, referring to the absolutely flat, usually salt-laden surface that is formed.

Racetrack Playa, view from south edge of the playa towards The Grandstand

Within Death Valley National Park there are two very distinctive playas. The most accessible is that located at Badwater in the southern part of the park, with a paved road and parking area at its eastern end.

At almost the other end of the park is the Racetrack Playa, which is much more remote. To reach it one travels about 30 miles over a gravel road from Ubehebe Crater to Teapot Junction and down into the Racetrack Playa. While the road is rough in areas, in good weather the Racetrack can be accessed by high-clearance two-wheels vehicles. But during or after severe rainfalls, the road can be temporarily closed to even four-wheel drive vehicles.

At 282 feet (86 m) below sea level,[4] Badwater Basin on Death Valley's floor is the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (behind Laguna del Carbón in Argentina), while Mount Whitney, only 85 miles (137 km) to the west, rises to 14,505 feet (4,421 m).[5] This topographic relief is the greatest elevation gradient in the contiguous United States and is the terminus point of the Great Basin's southwestern drainage.[4] Although the extreme lack of water in the Great Basin makes this distinction of little current practical use, it does mean that in wetter times the lake that once filled Death Valley (Lake Manly) was the last stop for water flowing in the region, meaning the water there was saturated in dissolved materials. Thus the salt pans in Death Valley are among the largest in the world and are rich in minerals, such as borax and various salts and hydrates.[6] The largest salt pan in the park extends 40 miles (64 km) from the Ashford Mill Site to the Salt Creek Hills, covering some 200 square miles (520 km2) of the valley floor.[6][note 1] The best known playa in the park is the Racetrack, known for its moving rocks.

Climate

A slice through the highest and lowest points in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America because of its lack of surface water and its low relief. It is so frequently the hottest spot in the United States that many tabulations of the highest daily temperatures in the country omit Death Valley as a matter of course.[7][8] On July 10, 1913, a record 134 °F (56.7 °C) was measured at the Weather Bureau's observation station at Greenland Ranch (now the site for the Furnace Creek Inn), the highest temperature ever recorded on that continent as of 2007.[9] Daily summer temperatures of 120 °F (49 °C) or greater are common, as well as below freezing nightly temperatures in the winter.[4] July is the hottest month, with an average high of 115 °F (46 °C) and an average low of 88 °F (31 °C).[10] December is the coldest month, with an average high of 65 °F (18 °C) and an average low of 39 °F (4 °C).[10] The record low is 15 °F (−9.4 °C).[10]

Several of the larger Death Valley springs derive their water from a regional aquifer, which extends as far east as southern Nevada and Utah. Much of the water in this aquifer has been there for many thousands of years, since the Pleistocene ice ages, when the climate was cooler and wetter. Today's drier climate does not provide enough precipitation to recharge the aquifer at the rate at which water is being withdrawn.[11]

The highest range within the park is the Panamint Range with Telescope Peak being its highest point at 11,049 feet (3,368 m).[4] The Death Valley region is a transitional zone in the northernmost part of the Mojave Desert and consists of five mountain ranges removed from the Pacific Ocean. Three of these are significant barriers: the Sierra Nevada, the Argus Range, and the Panamint Range. Air masses tend to lose moisture as they are forced up over mountain ranges, in what climatologists call a rainshadow effect.

The exaggerated rainshadow effect for the Death Valley area makes it North America's driest spot, receiving about 1.5 inches (38 mm) of rainfall annually at Badwater (some years fail to register any measurable rainfall).[12] Annual average precipitation varies from 1.92 inches (49 mm) overall below sea level to over 15 inches (380 mm) in the higher mountains that surround the valley.[10] When rain does arrive it often does so in intense storms that cause flash floods which remodel the landscape and sometimes create very shallow ephemeral lakes.

Lake Badwater, spring, 2005

The hot, dry climate makes it difficult for soil to form. Mass wasting, the down-slope movement of loose rock, is therefore the dominant erosive force in mountainous area, resulting in "skeletonized" ranges (literally, mountains with very little soil on them). Sand dunes in the park, while famous, are not nearly as numerous as their fame or the dryness of the area may suggest. One of the main dune fields is near Stovepipe Wells in the north-central part of the valley and is primarily made of quartz sand. Another dune field is just 10 miles (16 km) to the north but is instead mostly composed of travertine sand.[13] Yet another dune field is near the seldom-visited Ibex Hill in the southernmost part of the park, just south of the Saratoga Springs marshland. Prevailing winds in the winter come from the north, and prevailing winds in the summer come from the south. Thus the overall position of the dune fields remain more or less fixed.

There are rare exceptions to the dry nature of the area. In 2005, an unusually wet winter created a 'lake' in the Badwater Basin and led to the greatest wildflower season in the park's history.[14]

Human history

Petroglyphs above Mesquite Springs
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Early inhabitants and transient populations

Four Native American cultures are known to have lived in the area during the last 10,000 years or so.[4] The first known group, the Nevares Spring People, were hunters and gatherers who arrived in the area perhaps 9,000 years ago (7000 BCE) when there were still small lakes in Death Valley and neighboring Panamint Valley.[15] A much milder climate persisted at that time, and large game animals were still plentiful. By 5,000 years ago (3000 BCE) the Mesquite Flat People displaced the Nevares Spring People.[15] Around 2,000 years ago the Saratoga Spring People moved into the area, which by then was probably already a hot, dry desert.[15][note 2] This culture was more advanced at hunting and gathering and was skillful at handcrafts. They also left mysterious stone patterns in the valley.

One-thousand years ago, the nomadic Timbisha (formerly called "Shoshone" and also known as "Panamint" or "Koso") moved into the area and hunted game and gathered mesquite beans along with pinyon pine nuts.[4][15] Because of the wide altitude differential between the valley bottom and the mountain ridges, especially on the west, the Timbisha practiced a vertical migration pattern.[4] Their winter camps were located near water sources in the valley bottoms. As the spring and summer progressed and the weather warmed, grasses and other plant food sources ripened at progressively higher altitudes. November found them at the very top of the mountain ridges where they harvested pine nuts before moving back to the valley bottom for winter.

The California Gold Rush brought the first people of European descent known to visit the immediate area. In December 1849 two groups of California Gold Country-bound white travelers with perhaps 100 wagons total stumbled into Death Valley after getting lost on what they thought was a shortcut off the Old Spanish Trail.[16] Called the Bennett-Arcane Party, they were unable to find a pass out of the valley for weeks; they were able to find fresh water at various springs in the area, but were forced to eat several of their oxen to survive. They used the wood of their wagons to cook the meat and make jerky. The place where they did this is today referred to as "Burned Wagons Camp" and is located near the sand dunes.

After abandoning their wagons, they eventually were able to hike out of the valley. Just after leaving the valley, one of the women in the group turned and said, "Goodbye Death Valley," giving the valley they endured its name.[16][note 3] Included in the party was William Lewis Manly whose autobiographical book Death Valley in '49 detailed this trek and popularized the area (geologists later named the prehistoric lake that once filled the valley after him).

A twenty-mule team in Death Valley
Historical locomotive for borax-carrying in Death Valley (Furnace-Creek-Museum), USA, in June 1993
Skidoo in 1906
Scotty's Castle under construction
Civilian Conservation Corps workers in Death Valley

Boom and bust

The ores that are most famously associated with the area were also the easiest to collect and the most profitable: evaporite deposits such as salts, borate, and talc. Borax was found by Rosie and Aaron Winters near Furnace Creek Ranch (then called Greenland) in 1881.[17] Later that same year, the Eagle Borax Works became Death Valley's first commercial borax operation. William Tell Coleman built the Harmony Borax Works plant and began to process ore in late 1883 or early 1884, continuing until 1888.[18] This mining and smelting company produced borax to make soap and for industrial uses.[19] The end product was shipped out of the valley 165 miles (266 km) to the Mojave railhead in 10-ton-capacity wagons pulled by "twenty-mule teams" that were actually teams of 18 mules and two horses each.[19] The teams averaged two miles (3 km) an hour and required about 30 days to complete a round trip.[17] The trade name 20-Mule Team Borax was established by Francis Marion Smith's Pacific Coast Borax Company after Smith acquired Coleman's borax holdings in 1890. A memorable advertising campaign used the wagon's image to promote the Boraxo brand of granular hand soap and the Death Valley Days radio and television programs. Mining continued after the collapse of Coleman's empire, and by the late 1920s the area was the world's number one source of borax.[4] Some four to six million years old, the Furnace Creek Formation is the primary source of borate minerals gathered from Death Valley's playas.[17]

Other visitors stayed to prospect for and mine deposits of copper, gold, lead, and silver.[4] These sporadic mining ventures were hampered by their remote location and the harsh desert environment. In December 1903, two men from Ballarat were prospecting for silver.[20] One was an out-of-work Irish miner named Jack Keane and the other was a one-eyed Basque butcher named Domingo Etcharren. Quite by accident, Keane discovered an immense ledge of free-milling gold by the duo's work site and named the claim the Keane Wonder Mine. This started a minor and short-lived gold rush into the area.[20] The Keane Wonder Mine, along with mines at Rhyolite, Skidoo and Harrisburg, were the only ones to extract enough metal ore to make them worthwhile. Outright shams such as Leadfield also occurred, but most ventures quickly ended after a short series of prospecting mines failed to yield evidence of significant ore (these mines now dot the entire area and are a significant hazard to anyone who enters them). The boom towns which sprang up around these mines flourished during the first decade of the 20th century but soon declined after the Panic of 1907.[18]

Early tourism

The first documented tourist facilities in Death Valley were a set of tent houses built in the 1920s where Stovepipe Wells is now located. People flocked to resorts built around natural springs thought to have curative and restorative properties. In 1927, Pacific Coast Borax turned the crew quarters of its Furnace Creek Ranch into a resort, creating the Furnace Creek Inn and resort.[21] The spring at Furnace Creek was harnessed to develop the resort, and as the water was diverted, the surrounding marshes and wetlands started to shrink.[11]

Soon the valley was a popular winter destination. Other facilities started off as private getaways but were later opened to the public. Most notable among these was Death Valley Ranch, better known as Scotty's Castle. This large ranch home built in the Spanish Revival style became a hotel in the late 1930s and, largely because of the fame of Death Valley Scotty, a tourist attraction. Death Valley Scotty, whose real name was Walter Scott, was a gold miner who pretended to be owner of "his castle", which he claimed to have built with profits from his gold mine. Neither claim was true, but the real owner, Chicago millionaire Albert Mussey Johnson, encouraged the myth. When asked by reporters what his connection was to Walter Scott's castle, Johnson replied that he was Mr. Scott's banker.[22]

Protection and later history

President Herbert Hoover proclaimed a national monument in and around Death Valley on February 11, 1933, setting aside almost two million acres (8,000 km2) of southeastern California and small parts of southwesternmost Nevada.[3] Twelve companies worked in Death Valley using Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression and on into the early 1940s. They built barracks, graded 500 miles (800 km) of roads, installed water and telephone lines, and erected a total of 76 buildings.[23] Trails in the Panamint Range were built to points of scenic interest, and an adobe village, laundry and trading post were constructed for Shoshone Indians. Five campgrounds, restrooms, an airplane landing field and picnic facilities were also built.

Creation of the monument resulted in a temporary closing of the lands to prospecting and mining. However, Death Valley was quickly reopened to mining by Congressional action in June of the same year. As improvements in mining technology allowed lower grades of ore to be processed, and new heavy equipment allowed greater amounts of rock to be moved, mining in Death Valley changed. Gone were the days of the "single-blanket, jackass prospector" long associated with the romantic west. Open pit and strip mines scarred the landscape as international mining corporations bought claims in highly visible areas of the national monument. The public outcry that ensued led to greater protection for all national park and monument areas in the United States.

Inside an abandoned mine at Leadfield

In 1976 Congress passed the Mining in the Parks Act, which closed Death Valley National Monument to the filing of new mining claims, banned open-pit mining and required the National Park Service to examine the validity of tens of thousands of pre-1976 mining claims.[18] Mining was allowed to resume on a limited basis in 1980 with stricter environmental standards.[18] The park's Resources Management Division monitors mining within park boundaries and continues to review the status of 125 unpatented mining claims and 19 patented claim groups, while ensuring that federal guidelines are followed and the park's resources are protected. As of 2003, the only active mining operation in Death Valley National Park is the Billie Mine, an underground borax mine located along the road to Dante's View.

Death Valley National Monument was designated a biosphere reserve in 1984.[1] On October 31, 1994, the Monument was expanded by 1.3 million acres (5,300 km2) and redesignated a national park by passage of the Desert Protection Act.[1] This made it the largest national park in the contiguous United States.

Many of the larger cities and towns within the boundary of the regional ground water flow system that the park and its plants and animals rely upon are experiencing some of the fastest growth rates of any place in the United States. Notable examples within a 100-mile (160 km) radius of Death Valley National Park include Las Vegas and Pahrump, Nevada. In the case of Las Vegas, the local Chamber of Commerce estimates that 6,000 people are moving to the city every month. Between 1985 and 1995, the population of the Las Vegas Valley increased from 550,700 to 1,138,800.[11]

Telescope and Wildrose Peaks from Emigrant Canyon Rd.

Geologic history

The deep Death Valley basin is filled with sediment (light yellow) eroded from the surrounding mountains. Black lines show some of the major faults that created the valley.

The park has a diverse and complex geologic history. Since its formation, the area that comprises the park has experienced at least four major periods of extensive volcanism, three or four periods of major sedimentation, and several intervals of major tectonic deformation where the crust has been reshaped. Two periods of glaciation (a series of ice ages) have also had effects on the area, although no glaciers ever existed in the ranges now in the park.

Basement and Pahrump Group

Little is known about the history of the oldest exposed rocks in the area due to extensive metamorphism (alteration of rock by heat and pressure). Radiometric dating gives an age of 1,700 million years for the metamorphism (during the Proterozoic: See bottom of the geologic timeline).[4] About 1,400 million years ago a mass of granite now in the Panamint Range intruded this complex.[24] Uplift later exposed these rocks to nearly 500 million years of erosion.[24]

On these basement rocks was deposited the sedimentary formation of the Pahrump Group. This occurred after uplift-associated erosion removed whatever rocks covered the Proterozoic-aged rocks. The Pahrump is composed of arkose conglomerate (quartz clasts in a concrete-like matrix) and mud stone in its lower part, followed by dolomite from carbonate banks topped by algal mats in stromatolites, and finished with basin-filling sediment derived from the above, including possible glacial till from the hypothesized Snowball Earth glaciation.[25] The very youngest rocks in the Pahrump Group are from basaltic lava flows.

The Noonday Dolomite was formed from a carbonate shelf after the break-up of Rodinia.

Rifting and deposition

A rift opened and subsequently flooded the region as part of the breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia in the Neoproterozoic (by about 755 million years ago) and the creation of the Pacific Ocean. A shoreline similar to the present Atlantic Ocean margin of the United States lay to the east. An algal mat-covered carbonate bank was deposited, forming the Noonday Dolomite.[26] Subsidence of the region occurred as the continental crust thinned and the newly formed Pacific widened, forming the Ibex Formation. An angular unconformity (an uneven gap in the geologic record) followed.

A true ocean basin developed to the west, breaking all the earlier formations along a steep front. A wedge of clastic sediment then began to accumulate at the base of the two underwater precipices, starting the formation of opposing continental shelfs.[27] Three formations developed from sediment that accumulated on the wedge. The region's first known fossils of complex life are found in the resulting formations.[27] Notable among these are the Ediacara fauna and trilobites, both part of the Cambrian Explosion of life.

The sandy mudflats gave way about 550 million years ago to a carbonate platform (similar to the one around the present-day Bahamas), which lasted for the next 300 million years of Paleozoic time (refer to the middle of the timescale image). Death Valley's position was then within ten or twenty degrees of the Paleozoic equator. Thick beds of carbonate-rich sediments were periodically interrupted by periods of emergence. Although details of geography varied during this immense interval of time, a north-northeasterly trending coastline generally ran from Arizona up through Utah. The resulting eight formations and one group are 20,000 feet (6 km) thick and underlay much of the Cottonwood, Funeral, Grapevine, and Panamint ranges.[27]

Compression and uplift

In the early to mid- Mesozoic the western edge of the North American continent was pushed against the oceanic plate under the Pacific Ocean, creating a subduction zone.[27] A subduction zone is a type of contact between different crustal plates where heavier crust slides below lighter crust. Erupting volcanoes and uplifting mountains were created as a result, and the coastline was pushed to the west. The Sierran Arc started to form to the northwest from heat and pressure generated from subduction, and compressive forces caused thrust faults to develop.

A long period of uplift and erosion was concurrent with and followed the above events, creating a major unconformity, which is a large gap in the geologic record. Sediments worn off the Death Valley region were carried both east and west by wind and water.[28] No Jurassic- to Eocene-aged sedimentary formations exist in the area, except for some possibly Jurassic-age volcanic rocks (see the top of the timescale image).[28]

The Lake Manly lake system as it might have looked during its last maximum extent 22,000 years ago[29] (USGS image)
During very wet periods, the Amargosa River can flow at the surface, as it did in Death Valley during the wet winter of 2005. Wildflowers also peak during wetter years.

Erosion over many millions of years created a relatively featureless plain. Thirty-five million years ago, sluggish streams migrated laterally over its surface. Several other similar formations were also laid down.

Stretching and lakes

Basin and Range-associated stretching of large parts of crust below southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico started around 16 million years ago and the region is still spreading.[4] This stretching began to effect the Death and Panamint valleys area by 3 million years ago.[30] Before this, rocks now in the Panamint Range were on top of rocks that would become the Black Mountains and the Cottonwood Mountains. Lateral and vertical transport of these blocks was accomplished by movement on normal faults. Right-lateral movement along strike-slip faults that run parallel to and at the base of the ranges also helped to develop the area.[31] Torsional forces, probably associated with northwesterly movement of the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault (west of the region), is responsible for the lateral movement.[30]

Igneous activity associated with this stretching occurred from 12 million to 4 million years ago.[31] Sedimentation is concentrated in valleys (basins) from material eroded from adjacent ranges. The amount of sediment deposited has roughly kept up with this subsidence, resulting in retention of more or less the same valley floor elevation over time.

Pleistocene ice ages started 2 million years ago, and melt from alpine glaciers on the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains fed a series of lakes that filled Death and Panamint valleys and surrounding basins (see the top of the timescale image). The lake that filled Death Valley was the last of a chain of lakes fed by the Amargosa and Mojave Rivers, and possibly also the Owens River. The large lake that covered much of Death Valley's floor, which geologists call Lake Manly, started to dry up 10,500 years ago.[32] Saltpans and playas were created as ice age glaciers retreated, thus drastically reducing the lakes' water source. Only faint shorelines are left.

Biology

Habitat varies from saltpan at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level to the sub-alpine conditions found on the summit of Telescope Peak, which rises to 11,049 feet (3,368 m).[33] Vegetation zones include Creosote Bush, Desert Holly, and mesquite at the lower elevations and sage up through shadscale, blackbrush, Joshua Tree, pinyon-juniper, to Limber Pine and Bristlecone Pine woodlands.[33] The saltpan is devoid of vegetation, and the rest of the valley floor and lower slopes have sparse cover, although where water is available, an abundance of vegetation is usually present. These zones and the adjacent desert support a variety of wildlife species, including 51 species of native mammals, 307 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, 3 species of amphibians, and 2 species of native fish.[34]

Small mammals are more numerous than large mammals, such as Bighorn Sheep, Coyotes (image), Bobcats, Kit Foxes, Cougars, and Mule Deer.[34] Mule Deer are present in the pinyon/juniper associations of the Grapevine, Cottonwood, and Panamint ranges.[34] Bighorn Sheep are a rare species of mountain sheep that exist in isolated bands in the Sierra and in Death Valley. These are highly adaptable animals and can eat almost any plant. They have no known predators, but humans and burros compete for habitat.

Death Valley Pupfish spawning in Salt Creek

The ancestors of the Death Valley Pupfish swam to the area from the Colorado River via a long-since dried-up system of rivers and lakes (see Lake Manly). They now live in two separate populations: one in Salt Creek and another in Cottonball Marsh.

Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places in North America, yet it is home to over 1,000 species of plants; 23 of which are not found anywhere else.[33] Adaptation to the dry environment is key. For example, creosote bush and mesquite have tap-root systems that can extend 50 feet (15 m) down in order to take advantage of a year-round supply of ground water. The diversity of Death Valley's plant communities results partly from the region's location in a transition zone between the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin Desert and the Sonoran Desert.

This location, combined with the great relief found within the Park, supports vegetation typical of three biotic life zones: the lower Sonoran, the Canadian, and the Arctic/Alpine in portions of the Panamint Range. Based on the Munz and Keck (1968) classifications, seven plant communities can be categorized within these life zones, each characterized by dominant vegetation and representative of three vegetation types: scrub, desert woodland, and coniferous forest. Microhabitats further subdivide some communities into zones, especially on the valley floor.

Sphinx Moth on Rock Nettle in Mosaic Canyon

Unlike more typical locations across the Mojave Desert, many of the water-dependent Death Valley habitats possess a diversity of plant and animal species that are not found anywhere else in the world.[11] The existence of these species is due largely to a unique geologic history and the process of evolution that has progressed in habitats that have been isolated from one another since the Pleistocene epoch.

Activities

Sightseeing is available by personal automobile, four-wheel drive, bicycle, mountain bike (on established roadways only), and hiking. Riding through the park on motorcycle is also a popular pastime.[35] State Route 190, the Badwater Road, the Scotty's Castle Road, and paved roads to Dante's View and Wildrose provide access to the major scenic viewpoints and historic points of interest. More than 350 miles (560 km) of unpaved and four-wheel-drive roads provide access to wilderness hiking, camping, and historical sites.[36] All vehicles must be licensed and street legal. There are hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties, but most backcountry areas are accessible only by cross-country hiking. There are literally thousands of hiking possibilities. The normal season for visiting the park is from October 15 to May 15 because of summer extremes in temperature. A costumed living history tour of the historic Death Valley Scotty's Castle is conducted for a fee.

A tourist sliding down Star Dune in the Mesquite Flat Dune field

There are nine designated campgrounds within the park, and overnight backcountry camping permits are available at the Visitor Center.[37] Xanterra Parks & Resorts owns and operates a private resort, the Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort,[3] which comprises two separate and distinct hotels: the Furnace Creek Inn is a four-star historic hotel, and the Furnace Creek Ranch is a three-star ranch-style property reminiscent of the mining and prospecting days. Xanterra also operates the Stovepipe Wells Village motel. The Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch and the Stovepipe Wells Village are the only inns located inside Death Valley proper. There are a few motels near various entrances to the park, in Shoshone, Death Valley Junction, Beatty, Nevada, and Panamint Springs.

The visitor center is located in the Furnace Creek resort area on State Route 190. A 12-minute introductory slide program is shown every 30 minutes.[38] During the winter season—November through April—rangers offer interpretive tours and a wide variety of walks, talks, and slide presentations about Death Valley cultural and natural history. The visitor center has displays dealing with the park's geology, climate, wildlife and natural history. There are also specific sections dealing with the human history and pioneer experience. The Death Valley Natural History Association maintains a bookstore specifically geared to the natural and cultural history of the park.

Death Valley National Park is a popular location for stargazing as it has one of the darkest night skies in the United States. Despite Death Valley's remote location, its air quality and night visibility are threatened by civilization. In particular, light pollution is introduced by nearby Las Vegas.[39]

Deathvalleysky nps big.jpg
360° panorama of Racetrack Playa at night. The Milky Way is visible as an arc in the center.

See also

References

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Badwater, the Devils Golf Course, and Salt Creek are all part of the Death Valley Saltpan.
  2. ^ The last known lake to exist in Death Valley likely dried up 3,000 years ago.
  3. ^ In fact only one member of the Death Valley '49ers died in Death Valley, an elderly man named Culverwell, who was half dead already when he entered it.

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d e National Park Index (2001–2003), p. 26
  2. ^ NPS website, "Backcountry Roads"
  3. ^ a b c NPS Visitor Guide
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wright and Miller 1997, p. 611
  5. ^ a b Sharp 1997, p. 1
  6. ^ a b Wright and Miller 1997, p. 625
  7. ^ Hickcox, David H., "Temperature extremes. (United States)(1996 Weather)", Weatherwise, February 1, 1997. Abstract at [1].
  8. ^ Hickcox, David, "Temperature extremes. (daily maximum and minimum temperatures in the US)", Weatherwise, March 1, 1999. Abstract at [2].
  9. ^ NPS website, "Weather and Climate"
  10. ^ a b c d USGS weather
  11. ^ a b c d USGS 2004, p. "Furnace Creek"
  12. ^ Wright and Miller 1997, pp. 610–611
  13. ^ Kiver 1999, p. 283
  14. ^ http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7182113/
  15. ^ a b c d Wallace 1978
  16. ^ a b Kiver 1999, p. 277
  17. ^ a b c USGS 2004, p. "Harmony Borax Works"
  18. ^ a b c d NPS website, "Mining"
  19. ^ a b NPS website, "Twenty Mule Teams"
  20. ^ a b NPS website, "People"
  21. ^ NPS website, "Furnace Creek Inn"
  22. ^ NPS website, "Johnson and Scotty Build a Castle"
  23. ^ NPS website, "Civilian Conservation Corps"
  24. ^ a b Wright and Miller 1997, p. 631
  25. ^ Wright and Miller 1997, pp. 631–632
  26. ^ Wright and Miller 1997, p. 632
  27. ^ a b c d Wright and Miller 1997, p. 634
  28. ^ a b Wright and Miller 1997, p. 635
  29. ^ Kiver 1999, p. 281
  30. ^ a b Kiver 1999, p. 278
  31. ^ a b Wright and Miller 1997, p. 616
  32. ^ Sharp 1997, p. 41
  33. ^ a b c NPS website, "Plants"
  34. ^ a b c NPS website, "Animals"
  35. ^ Joe Berk (September/October 2008). "Death Valley by motorcycle". Motorcycle Classics. http://www.motorcycleclassics.com/Touring/Destinations/September-October-2008/Riding-through-Death-Valley.aspx. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  36. ^ NPS 2002, p. 55
  37. ^ NPS website, "Campgrounds"
  38. ^ NPS website, "Ranger Programs"
  39. ^ NPS website, "Lightscape / Night Sky"

Bibliography

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.
 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Geological Survey.

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

North America : United States of America : California : Desert : Death Valley National Park
Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley
Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley

Death Valley National Park [1] is a United States National Park that is located primarily in the Southern California Desert, with a small portion extending into Nevada. Many potential visitors ignore the park due to the misconception that it is simply a lifeless, empty landscape, but this 3.4 million acre (14,000 km2) park is not only the largest park in the continental USA but also arguably one of the most striking specimens of Mother Earth. Nearly every major geological era is elegantly exposed here in what sometimes appears to be one of her greatest tapestries, gloriously presenting her full spectrum.

The valley itself is 130 miles (210 km) long, between six and 13 miles (10-21 km) wide and is surrounded by steep mountain ranges: the Panamint mountains to the west, and the Black, Funeral, and Grapevine mountains to the east. Its three million acres of wilderness and rich cultural history make it a lifetime's work to explore all that the valley has to offer.

Understand

History

The first non-Native Americans arrived in Death Valley in 1849 looking for a shortcut to the California gold fields. Although only one member of their party died, the name Death Valley was given to the area. Various mining operations used the valley afterwards, most notably for borax mining. When mining prospects went sour, the Pacific Coast Borax Company lobbied for federal protection of Death Valley, in order to develop tourism. President Hoover declared about two million acres of the area a national monument in 1933. In 1994 the monument was expanded by 1.3 million acres and declared a national park.

Landscape

Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and one of the hottest places in the world. It is also a vast geological museum, containing examples of most of the earth's geological eras. Death Valley National Park includes all of Death Valley, a 130-mile-long north/south-trending trough that formed between two major block-faulted mountain ranges: the Amargosa Range on the east and the Panamint Range on the west. Telescope Peak, the highest peak in the Park and in the Panamint Mountains, rises 11,049 feet above sea level and lies only 15 miles from the lowest point in the United States in the Badwater Basin salt pan, 282 feet below sea level. The California Desert Protection Act added most of the Saline, Eureka, northern Panamint, and Greenwater valleys to the Park.

Flora and fauna

Animal life is varied, and numerous species of reptiles, birds and mammals populate Death Valley, adapting well to the desert environment. However, many of these animals have a nocturnal lifestyle in order to escape the searing climate and can be difficult to spot.

Desert wildflowers near Stovepipe Wells after a late winter rain.
Desert wildflowers near Stovepipe Wells after a late winter rain.

The largest native mammal in the area, and perhaps the best studied member of the fauna, is the desert bighorn sheep. Small herds of sheep are most commonly found in the mountains surrounding Death Valley but at least occasionally visit the valley floor. Look for these animals near the springs and seeps that can be found throughout the park.

Over 350 species of birds are now known to inhabit or visit the area. And even native fish are to be found in Death Valley - several forms of desert pupfish of the genus Cyprinodon live in Salt Creek and other permanent bodies of water.

Climate

Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world. Air temperatures over 120 °F (49 °C) are common during the summer months of June, July, August and September. The record high in the park was recorded in 1913 at a blazing 134 °F (57 °C). This is second only to a 136 °F (58 °C) temperature taken in Libya in 1922. Since it is often up to four degrees hotter near Badwater than it is near Furnace Creek where the official record was recorded, it is entirely likely that Death Valley should hold the title as the hottest place on Earth.

Fortunately, temperatures from November through March are mild with highs averaging in the 60s and 70s (15-25) with winter nighttime lows usually in the 40s (5). This makes the winter and early spring the best seasons to visit.

Sun-baked sand in Death Valley
Sun-baked sand in Death Valley

Very little rain falls in the valley, but rainfall in the mountains often sends floodwaters roaring down narrow canyons, scouring boulders, rocks and soil along the way and eventually depositing them in the valley. These deposits are evident in the form of gigantic Alluvial fans seen throughout the valley. Many of these fans reach over a mile wide and are the product of hundreds and thousands of years of this process. The granular structure of these fans is also interesting to note as you will commonly see the larger boulders near the top of these structures and as you go further and further down, the granularity becomes finer and finer until you are finally left with the salts on the valley floor!

The higher elevations of the Panamint Range reach up to 11,049 feet (3,368 m) at Telescope Peak and are usually covered with snow from November to May, making a breathtaking backdrop to this unique desert climate.

A land of extremes and superlatives, there are locations within the park that allow the visitor to see both the lowest and highest elevations in the 48 contiguious United States on a clear day. As far as US phenomena occur, not only does it feature the hottest recorded temperature, but also reports the lowest annual precipitation, the tallest sand dunes, and at 13,628 square kilometers, is the largest National Park in the 48 contiguous United States.

Death Valley area map.
Death Valley area map.

By plane

McCarran International Airport (IATA: LAS) [2] in Las Vegas is the closest commercial airport to Death Valley.

There are also two small airstrips within the park for private plane access.

By train

The nearest city with an Amtrak station is Barstow, which is served by the Southwest Chief [3] Chicago - Los Angeles route.

By car

From Las Vegas or Barstow you will need to rent a car as there is no public transportation to and from the park. (If you get stranded in the park, you can have a rental car delivered from Pahrump, about one hour away in Nevada.)

From the East:

  • Take CA 190 west from Death Valley Junction 20 miles into the park.
  • From US 95 in Nevada, take NV 374 west from Beatty 19 miles into the Valley.

From the West:

  • Going north on US 395 take CA 190 east from Olancha, through Panamint Springs and over Towne Pass (elevation 4956 feet). This road is steep and narrow along some sections and is slow going for vehicles pulling trailers.
  • Going south on US 395 take CA 136 east from Lone Pine to CA 190 east through Panamint Springs and proceed as above.

From the North:

  • From US 95 in Nevada, take NV 267 west from Scotty's Junction 26 miles towards Scotty's Castle.

When traveling from Las Vegas, proceed north on US 95 to Lathrop Wells. Then proceed south on NV 373 for 23 miles to Death Valley Junction. Then proceed west on CA 190 for 20 miles to the park entrance.

Many other more adventurous routes into the park are also available particularly for high clearance and 4x4 vehicles. The route in from the Eureka Dunes in the north is notable along with the route from the Panamint Valley through Emigrant Pass from the southwest and the southern route on CA 178 west from Shoshone.

From the South:

  • From I-15 take the exit for CA 127 when you reach the tiny town of Baker. Proceed north on CA 127 for 56 miles to the microscopic town of Shoshone. Just one mile north of Shoshone is the turnoff for CA 178 which leads you into the Park.
  • If you want to go to Badwater go west on CA 178 for 56 more miles. The road will cease to be CA 178 after several miles and after that the condition deteriorates quickly. The road is pretty bad at times for many miles and can't be driven at high speeds. The condition eventually becomes better a few miles south of Badwater. Avoid using this route at night if possible.
  • If you don't want to take the shortcut to Badwater you can continue north on CA 127 for 27 miles when it meets with CA 190 and enter the park from there.

Note: Some roads in the park can occasionally be snowed in at the passes and may require chains in the winter. Please reference the Death Valley Morning Report [4] for current weather and road conditions.

Note on routes: "CA 127" means "California State Route 127" and "NV 373" means "Nevada State Route 373." The signs for each state are different. Nevada has a rectangular sign with a white shape of the state with black numbers while California's signs are in the shape of a spade and green with white numbers.

Fees/Permits

A seven day pass with unlimited re-entry is $20 for a standard vehicle (car/truck/van) and $10 for each individual traveling on foot, motorcycle, or bicycle. However, individuals planning to visit many different National Parks in the USA may save money by purchasing a National Parks Pass for $80; this pass allows free entry to all national park areas.

Get around

A car is highly recommended although during the more temperate seasons such as the fall and spring a nice bike ride may be in order. But beware that climatic conditions in the park can be extreme so always check the Death Valley Weather [5] forecast prior to entering and plan your activities accordingly.

It is also important to note that this and most other weather forecasts for the park refer to locations within the low altitude portion of the park and weather conditions at higher elevations can be dramatically different.

The paved roads within the park are well-maintained and accessible to vehicles of all kind, but dirt roads (with the exception of the west side around around the Badwater Salt Flats) are rough, difficult tracks that generally require a vehicle with moderately high clearance and (preferably) four-wheel drive. Expect excessive washboarding, erosion, large rocks, and uneven surfaces when traveling on the park's dirt roads.

  • Artist Drive. The rocks within this section of the park have been stained myriad colors by minerals within, creating a view that resembles an artist's palette.
  • Badwater. At 282 feet below sea level, it's the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. A boardwalk and signs provide info on the local environment, and a trail leads out onto the salt flats.
Devil's Golf Course
Devil's Golf Course
Historical locomotive for Borax-carrying in the Death Valley (Furnace-Creek-Museum), USA, in June 1993
Historical locomotive for Borax-carrying in the Death Valley (Furnace-Creek-Museum), USA, in June 1993
  • Dante's View. Spectacular view from an overlook just a mile or two away from Badwater, but 4000 feet taller. The road to Dante's View is a bit long, but the view is worth it. If you are towing a trailer, a parking lot is provided for you to leave your trailer behind before ascending the most difficult part of the road to Dante's View.
  • Devil's Cornfield
  • Devil's Golf Course. A bizarre landscape consisting of a vast field of salt crystals. Please admire these carefully! A slight touch can break the crystals, which often take years to re-form.
  • Echo Canyon4WD road just east of Furnace Creek.
  • Mustard Canyon. A popular hike located just north of Furnace Creek through a brilliantly-colored canyon. The best view is from the very end of the trail, which requires traversing through some narrow canyon walls and over ladders. Star Wars fans may recognize this place as Jawa hideouts from Episode IV.
  • Mushroom Rock. This oddly shaped rock is on the road south of Furnace Creek.
  • Natural Bridge. Travel south from Furnace Creek. Natural Bridge is just east of the main road via a dirt road. This natural bridge in a narrow canyon was created when erosion managed to undercut a section of the stream bed and eventually create a bridge well above the bottom of the canyon.
  • Salt Creek. Travel north from Furnace Creek. Salt Creek is about two miles west of the main road via an easy dirt road. This place is great. Long ago Death Valley was a lake with fish in it; as the lake dried up and salinity increased the fish evolved to cope. Now they are restricted to a short, salty creek which springs up out of the desert, flows for a few hundred yards, and then disappears back into the sand.
  • Visitor Center And Museum. At Furnace Creek. When visiting Death Valley, start here and you may discover that some sight you hadn't been interested in turns out to really interest you. Or just figure out which of these many places you should really visit.
  • Zabriskie Point. Famous viewpoint loved by photographers just east of Furnace Creek. View overlooks interesting weathered canyons. View is a two minute walk from the parking lot.
Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point
  • Aguereberry Point
  • Amargosa Opera House
  • Cottonwood Canyon
  • Darwin Falls. A 15-foot waterfall that is particularly interesting in Spring. Traveling west of Panamint Springs on SR 190, turn left onto a dirt road that goes up a wash just before SR 190 starts climbing uphill. After about half a mile of dirt, gravel and rocks, there is a small parking lot. From the parking lot, hike about half a mile to a mile further into the canyon. Since this is the drinking water supply for Panamint Springs, please do not jump in, no matter how tempting it is.
  • Death Valley Buttes
  • Greenwater Ruins
  • Grotto Canyon
  • Marble Canyon. A popular hiking destination. While accessible only by a long, sandy road followed by a techincal rock crawl through a wash, this hike is worth the headache (or fun) of getting to the base of the trail. Before you go, consult rangers about the location of various petrogylphs along the canyon walls. Though some have been vandalized recently, many are in pristine condition.
  • Mosaic Canyon. This popular hike in the center of the park winds through a narrow, marbled canyon. Some climbing and scaling of slick marbled rock is required.
  • Sand Dunes. Near Stovepipe Wells. Most people think sand dunes are common in the desert. They aren't. There are two interesting areas of sand dunes in Death Valley. The largest is Eureka Dunes, accessible only to adventurous backcountry folks. This smaller set of dunes near Stovepipe Wells is still quite impressive.
  • Stovepipe Well
  • Scotty's Castle (Death Valley Ranch). A strange story about the creation of elaborate mansion in the valley involving sickness, fraud, and tall tales.
  • Titus Canyon. An unimproved road into Death Valley that begins just west of Beatty (the road to Titus canyon heads north from the normal paved route from Beatty into Death Valley). Titus canyon is narrow, deep and spectacular. Due to narrowness, parts of this road are one-way, so you really need to start from the east end of the road. You don't need an off-road vehicle for this, normal cars should do fine, but don't bring the RV.
  • Ubehebe Crater. Located in the northern part of the park near Scotty's Castle, this giant crater was formed by volcanic activity. Walking trails lead into and around the crater, but be warned - going down into the crater is a difficult undertaking, and it may be best to enjoy the view from the top.
Eureka Sand Dunes
Eureka Sand Dunes
  • Barker Ranch. Charles Manson and his followers were captured here in 1969. The backcountry road up - which includes several rock falls - will make you wonder how Charles Manson got a school bus through. Many visitors who make the difficult trek stay overnight in the cabin here.
  • Charcoal Kilns
  • Crankshaft Junction
  • Desolation Canyon. Because it is not marked from the road, and not well marked on the map, a hike through this canyon offers solitude even beyond that of what is a very quiet park to begin with. The canyon isn't much to look at for the first 1/2 mile of the hike from the parking area, but beyond that, there is much to explore.
  • Emigrant Canyon
  • Eureka Sand Dunes. Tucked away in the north part of the park, accessible only by tens of miles of dirt road, these are the second tallest dunes in the United States. Don't let their out-of-the-way location deter you from visiting, however. The solitude only adds to the otherworldliness of the wind-swept sands, the highly rare Eureka Grass blades grasping for life in the dry mounds, and the panoramic view of the colorful Last Chance and Saline Ranges which flank the dunes on either side.
  • Ibex Dunes. Well off the beaten path in the Southern end of the park, these are some of the most remote sand dunes in the American West. Mountains flank the dunes to the west and east, making both sunrise and sunset an event. The backcountry road here is rutted with arroyos, and like so many other places in the park, requires a four-wheel drive.
Racetrack Playa
Racetrack Playa
  • Pleasant Canyon and South Park Canyon 4wd Loop. The South Park Canyon portion near the Panamint Valley should be attempted only by experienced drivers with high clearance vehicles.
  • Racetrack Playa. As with many points of interest within the park, this one is not easily accessible. The main route consists of 27 miles of dirt road, beginning at the Ubehebe Crater in the northern part of the park. However, the effort is well-rewarded with a site of twilight-zone proportions. The Plestiocene-era lake bed, nearly three miles long and a mile wide, is so flat that it once used as a landing strip for drug smugglers. But the Racetrack is most famous for its "moving rocks": boulders whose erratic tracks remain visible for years. Though their movement has been tracked with GPS, no adequate explanation for it has been found. In the spring months, brine shrimp - which hibernate when the water dries up, only to emerge months or even years later - are sometimes visible in the muddy puddles here.
  • Tea Kettle Junction. Located in the backcountry near the Racetrack Playa, this signpost is decorated with numerous tea kettles and makes for a rather odd sight in the vast desert.
  • Telescope Peak. Highest point in the park at 11,049 feet.
  • Hiking. There are numerous trails within the park, ranging in difficulty from short loops to overnight, mountainous treks. Always bring sufficient water when hiking in Death Valley; the heat can kill.
  • Photography. The odd geologic formations in the park are great for early morning and late evening photography, although during the day the harsh sun tends to wash out most photographs. During March and April the wildflowers within the valley bloom, making it a particularly photogenic time of year.
  • Stargazing. The clear desert air, scarcity of clouds, and and lack of nearby light pollution makes Death Valley an ideal spot for stargazing. Ideally come during a new moon to fully appreciate the darkness of the night sky.
  • Four-wheel driving. Death Valley has numerous high-clearance roads that offer a challenge for four-wheel drive enthusiasts. Driving off-road is not permitted.
  • Bicycling. Bicycles are allowed on all roads in the park, including the many rough, trail-like backcountry roads that attract four-wheel drive enthusiasts. As with motor vehicles, riding off-road is not permitted.
  • Scotty's Castle Tours. Tours of the home of an eccentric resident of Death Valley are offered daily from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM, departing at least once an hour and lasting for fifty minutes. Costs are $11 per person (discounts for seniors and children) and there may be a wait for tickets, so try to purchase them several hours in advance of your preferred tour time. Note that tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Badwater ultramarathon. Only for the truly insane, the 135 mile course from Badwater (elevation -282 feet) to the Mt. Whitney trailhead (elevation 8360 feet) is billed as the world's toughest race. Adding to the difficulty, the race is held annually during July, the hottest month of the year. In 2004, 72 people toed the starting line, and 57 battered, burned, and exhausted souls officially finished by crossing the finish line within 60 hours (the course record is just over 25 hours). For those with a death wish, more info can be found at [6].
  • Furnace Creek Visitor's Center
  • Furnace Creek Inn Gift Shop
  • Furnace Creek Ranch General Store
  • Borax Museum
  • Stovepipe Wells General Store
  • Scotty's Castle Gift Shop

Gas

Although you can get gas in the park it typically costs up to a dollar more per gallon than outside the park. It is recommended to fuel up right outside the park before coming in. But once in the park, don't try to squeak out with just enough gas as the results can be fatal if you are stuck in the wilderness or just plain costly if you need to get gas brought to you by a tow truck.

  • Furnace Creek Gas Station, 8AM-6PM (24 hours a day by credit card) on SR 190
  • Stovepipe Wells Gas Station, 8AM-6PM on SR 190 (24 hours a day by credit card, regular gas only, usually cheapest in Death Valley proper)
  • Scotty's Castle Gas Station, 7AM-6PM on SR 267 (Currently Closed, Call NPS for More Information)
  • Furnace Creek Inn Dining Room. The only upscale restaurant in Death Valley, very elegant, with a somewhat laid back dress code. Closed for summer season. Reservations are required for dinner and Sunday brunch. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served. Call 760-786-2345 for reservations.
  • 49'er Cafe. Located in Furnace Creek Ranch, this restaurant is less upscale than the Furnace Creek Inn or the Wrangler Steakhouse, but offers decent food with dinner entrees starting around $10.
  • Wrangler Buffet. Located in Furnace Creek Ranch at the ranch, the buffet is served daily for breakfast and lunch and offers a variety of hot and cold items.
  • Wrangler Steakhouse. Located in Furnace Creek Ranch, this upscale restaurant offers steaks and other entrees starting around $25. Open for dinner only.
  • Stovepipe Wells. Restaurant and convenience store.
  • Corkscrew Saloon. Located in Furnace Creek Ranch and providing a cowboy atmosphere, the drink prices are reasonable ($5 for a beer) and the crowd combines retired tourists with Death Valley locals, creating an interesting mix.

Sleep

Lodging

Within the park

There are 4 in-park lodging facilities in Death Valley National Park.

  • Furnace Creek Inn. [7] This inn advertises itself as a first class, AAA Four Diamond historic resort with 66 rooms and full amenities. Rates range from $250-$370 per room with $20 per each additional person. Closed during summer season. 760-786-2345
  • Furnace Creek Ranch. [8] Located in Furnace Creek, this establishment is the ranch style family oriented version of the above Inn with 224 rooms and rates ranging from $105 to $174 depending on the season and type of room. 760-786-2345
  • Panamint Springs Resort. [9] Located outside of the park, this resort is the most economical lodging option. The rooms are small and very out dated. Rates range from $79 to $149. 775-482-7680
  • Stovepipe Wells Village. [10] Motel-style lodging in Stovepipe Wells. The rooms are not fancy, and the running water in some rooms is not potable, but it is a perfectly comfortable and convenient place to stay. Rates tend to be cheaper than at Furnace Creek ($111 for a Deluxe room). Beware of the restaurant at Stovepipe Wells, though; it tends to be wannabe fancy and overpriced. Call early for reservations at the lodge. 760-786-2387

Outside of the park

  • Death Valley Junction is the closest town outside of Death Valley, about thirty minutes away from the visitor's center it has one hotel, and a theatre.
  • Beatty is a town outside (northeast) of Death Valley. It's a very cheap option.
  • Lone Pine is two hours west of the park in California.
  • Shoshone is an hour southeast of the park in California.
  • Furnace Creek (Year round). Located 196 feet below sea level, Furnace Creek has 136 sites with water, tables, fireplaces, flush toilets, and dump station. No showers, but nearby Furnace Creek Ranch offers pool and shower for $5 per day. Furnace Creek is $18 per night during the winter season and $12 a night during the summer.
  • Mahogany Flat (Closed in winter). Mahogany Flat is located at 8,200 feet in the Panamint Mountains and is accessible to high clearance vehicles only. Depending upon road conditions, 4-wheel drive may be necessary. The campground has 10 sites, tables, fireplaces, and pit toilets. Mahogany Flat is free.
  • Mesquite Spring (Year Round). Located at 1,800 feet 3 miles from Scotty's Castle, Mesquite Spring has 30 sites with water, tables, fireplaces, flush toilets, and a dump station. The fee is $12 a night.
  • Stovepipe Wells (Closed in summer). Located at sea level, Stovepipe Wells has 190 sites with water, some tables, some fireplaces, flush toilets, and dump station. $12 per night.
  • Stovepipe Wells RV Campground (Year Round). This RV campground is managed by the Stovepipe Wells Resort. It has 14 sites with full hook-ups and no tables or fireplaces. A swimming pool and showers are available. No Reservations, first come first served, and the sites are $23 a night.
  • Sunset (Closed in summer). Located at 190 feet below sea level, Sunset has 1000 sites with water, flush toilets, and dump station. NO Fires Allowed. Sunset is $12 per night.
  • Texas Spring (Closed in summer). Located at sea level, Texas Spring has 92 sites with water, tables, fireplaces, flush toilets, and dump station. Texas Spring is first come first served with self registration. From March 17th through April 15th, Texas Spring is designated primarily for tent camping with a limited number of RV sites. The fee is $14 per night. For the summer, reservations for the two Texas Springs campground group sites are available by calling (760) 786-3247.
  • Thorndike (Closed in winter). Thorndike is located at 7,400 feet in the Panamint Mountains and is accessible to high clearance vehicles only. Depending on road conditions, 4-wheel drive may be necessary. Thorndike has 6 sites, tables, fireplaces, and pit toilets. Thorndike is free. ATTN: Due to extreme fire danger, campfires are prohibited at Thorndike Campground until further notice!
  • Wildrose (Year round). Located at 4,100 feet in the Panamint Mountains, Wildrose has 23 sites, with tables, fireplaces, and pit toilets. Drinking water is available during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Although it is windy enough that you'll need to take care to secure your campsite, it is still high enough in elevation that it presents more pleasant weather for camping than the valley floor. Being farther away from the more popular areas of the park induces a quieter setting as well. Wildrose is a free campground.

Backcountry

Backcountry camping is allowed 2 miles away from any developed area, paved road, or "day use only" area. Due to the rough dirt roads, backcountry roadside camping is generally only accessible to visitors with high clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicles, or well-equipped mountain bikes.

Stay safe

Follow Desert Survival guidelines. The name of the park says it all. Unprepared tourists die each year within the borders of the park. Make sure you have plenty of water (at least a gallon (4 liters) per day, per person) for your activities, whether it be on a backcountry trail, or on the main highway. Should you become stranded while driving, stay with your vehicle as it is likely to provide the only shade in the area. Pack plenty of water for you car in case of overheating, especially in summer! Rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders are present in the park. Never place your hands or feet where you cannot see first!

If you are going a significant distance on any of the unpaved roads, phone a friend and tell them where you are going, when you will be back, when you will phone them again to tell them you are safe, and give them an emergency number to call (760-786-2342) if you don't get back in touch with them by a chosen deadline. Some of the unimproved roads eat tires for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you could lose your spare tire too. In addition, make sure you have more than enough fuel; roads may be impassable and can require unforeseen detours. Don't rely on a GPS routing alone. Figure out where your going on the official national park map first, then make sure the GPS device exactly follows same route.

Cell phone service does not exist in most of the park, don't count on being able to use it in an emergency.

Contact

Free Wi-Fi internet access is available at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, but only when they are open.

There is no mobile phone access for most phones. Analog reception for Verizon Wireless customers is available close to Furnace Creek, but most modern phones are not capable of using the old analog system.

  • Mount Whitney. The tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight states, Mt. Whitney is located west of the park on highway 190.
  • Eastern Sierra. The Sierra Nevada mountains west of the park on highway 190 provide an ideal region for backpackers.
  • Las Vegas. America's playground, Sin City can be reached via numerous routes from the south and east exits of the park.
This is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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