“In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.” US National Park Service
Death Valley is located in Eastern California and is situated within the Mojave Desert. It is the lowest, hottest and driest area in North America and, earlier this year, recorded the country’s highest June temperature on record (129.9 degrees Fahrenheit or 54.4 degrees Celsius). This was almost 100 years after Death Valley recorded the world’s highest temperature of 134 degrees (56.7 C) on 10 July 1913.
I personally don’t enjoy extreme heat. So, it was with some trepidation that I travelled through the Death Valley as part of my US National Parks tour. Fortunately, it was a rather cool 102 degrees (38.9 C) during our visit and our guide joked about needing a woollen scarf to cope with the cold (at least by Death Valley standards).
Again, the variety of landscapes here is stunning. We stopped at Zabriskie Point, Devils Golf Course, Badwater Basin, the Artists Palette and later, when I suspect it was a bit warmer, the sand dunes. This was the final time we stepped out of the air-conditioned vehicle and it was a bit like stepping into an oven. We also stopped at the visitor centre at the aptly-named Furnace Creek, where we watched a film and then chatted to a very enthusiastic ranger.
He told us he was from Oklahoma “y’all” and then proceeded to debunk the idea of ‘death’ in this valley. This is a place full of life, he said, and he compared Death Valley to the Galapagos Islands because species adapt and survive here too. He even wondered why you would want to go all the way to the Galapagos when you could just come here. Of course, I was very tempted to tell him that it’s a lot easier to find the wildlife in the Galapagos Islands but I didn’t want to spoil his fun.
Also, “Death Valley is misnamed y’all”. Firstly, it isn’t a valley because it wasn’t formed by a river, but by plates shifting and splitting the earth. Secondly, it was named Death Valley (rather unfairly) after one person died – but apparently that person was already sick. We had a lot of fun listening to this ranger, someone who clearly loves his job and is very passionate about Death Valley.
Here are some of my photographs.
Devils Golf Course
“The highest mountain in Death Valley National Park is 11,049 foot Telescope Peak. The vertical drop from the peak to the Badwater Basin is twice the depth of Grand Canyon.” US National Park Service