Death Valley National Park located east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the arid Great Basin of the United States covers 5,262 square miles (13,630 km2) including Saline Valley, a large part of Panamint Valley, almost all of Death Valley, and parts of several mountain ranges . Death Valley National Park was declared a U.S. National Monument in 1933, placing the area under federal protection.
Death Valley National Park includes the Funeral Mountains, Coffin Peak, Hell’s Gate, Starvation Canyon and Dead Man Pass. 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 150 years of history, which give an insight into the harsh life of the early settlers . Ancient foot-trails provide evidence of the Shoshone Indians who lived here even earlier.
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.
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 -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.
Flora & Fauna
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. Its wilderness area covers 4,774 square miles (12,360 km2).
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.
Sightseeing is available by personal automobile, four-wheel drive, bicycle, mountain bikeand hiking. Riding through the park on motorcycle is also a popular pastime. 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. There are hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties, but most backcountry areas are accessible only by cross-country hiking. The normal season for visiting the park is from October 15 to May 15, because of summer extremes in temperature.
There are nine designated campgrounds within the park, and overnight backcountry camping permits are available at the Visitor Center.
Death Valley National Park is a popular location for stargazing because it has one of the darkest night skies in the United States ,but even in this remote place a little ‘light pollution’ is introduced by nearby Las Vegas.