Death Valley National Park — the name may conjure up images of endless
desolation, of mile after mile of barren desert inhabited by little more
than tumbleweeds and of creatures with scales. And, to some extent,
this park of more than 3.3 million acres has earned its macabre
appellation. This California park, after all, is on average the hottest
place on the planet; it is the driest place in the United States,
receiving less than two inches of rain per year. Within this harsh
expanse lies the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, Badwater Basin,
at 282 feet below sea level. Considering the stats alone, Death Valley
sounds like a definite must-skip destination. But travelers who never
visit this complex, geological oddity will be lesser for their omission.
The largest U.S. National Park outside of Alaska, Death Valley is a
tapestry made of rock and time, wind and water — and extreme heat. The
vast majority of visitors hike the park’s canyons, peruse its 900
species of plants (21 of which exist only within its boundaries) and
investigate the history of its various inhabitants during winter months,
since temperatures in the summer regularly exceed 120 degrees F. But a
visit in the spring may bring blooms of wildflowers so colorful and
dense as to appear to be a blanket woven with petals.
Telescope Peak, all 11, 049 feet of it, looms over the park to
the west, its snowy peak in winter playing chromatic counterpoint to the
surrounding earth tones. Even the most science-averse travelers will be
tempted to read the information signs posted throughout the park to
find out how such an unusual, magical place came to exist.
For park information, call (760) 786-3200 or visit www.nps.gov/deva.