As ominous as it sounds, Death Valley National park is a remarkable landscape of unmatched beauty, characterized by miles of deep sand dunes, colorful rocks and canyons, and assortment of endemic wildlife and one-of-a-kind evaporative salt elements. Visitors to this unique park will also find a wreath of relics from its lengthy history that offer a glimpse into the harsh life of the area’s early settlers and native inhabitants, including metal ore mines, charcoal kilns, ghost towns, petroglyphs and ancient Shoshone foot trails.
Beatty is just seven miles from Death Valley and often referred to as the “Gateway to Death Valley.” Looking at a map, visitors will find several Death Valley National Park features listed, including the Funeral Mountains, Hell’s Gate, Starvation Canyon, Dead Man Pass and Coffin Peak. Sounds pretty serious, right? Interestingly, the area was named Death Valley after a group of European-Americans became stuck in the valley in 1849 while looking for a shortcut to the legendary goldfields of California. Although only one member of their camp periled, the name Death Valley stuck.
A few boomtowns came to life in the notorious valley, and as you might suspect, didn't last long due to the extremely harsh environmental conditions. The only long-term profitable mining prospect was borax, which was famously transported out of Death Valley with twenty-mule teams. Later, the valley became the subject of books, radio and television programs, and even movies. As a result, tourism exploded in the 1920s when luxury resorts were built around Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. Many celebrities were drawn to Death Valley as an exotic desert getaway during the winter months, and by 1933 the valley was declared Death Valley National Monument and became a National Park in 1994.
Death Valley’s fascinating features stretch a baffling 130 miles long by 12 miles wide. What’s even more astounding is the fact that Death Valley covers a staggering 3.4 million acres of barren, largely unpopulated terrain that is filled with sweeps of desert broken up by rocky ridges. The elevation to the north end sits at 1,000 meters and slopes steadily downward, putting the valley floor below sea level for 70 miles. Ultimately, the terrain slopes down to Badwater Basin—the lowest, hottest and driest point in the Western Hemisphere—sitting at 282 feet below sea level. This stark depression contributes to the equally extreme temperatures, which, in the summer months can exceed a scathing 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime, and zero degrees at night.
While temperatures reaching 130 degrees is nearly impossible to imagine, Death Valley’s high elevation mountain ranges are known to become snow-capped in the winter. The paradoxical land of extremes is unlike anywhere else on the planet, and recreational pursuits abound. From leisurely walks to strenuous hikes, to camping and even rousing a round of golf, there is no end to activities to enjoy in one of the world’s hottest and driest places.
Despite the fact that Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places in North America, this seemingly desolate environment is home to over 1,000 species of plants. Fascinatingly, 23 of those species are not found anywhere else, including the Rock Lady and Desert Pupfish.
When visiting Death Valley National Park, please remember to exercise good judgment when it comes to hydration. With temperatures soaring well above the 100 degree F mark, heat related illness is a real possibility. Drink plenty of water and be sure to carry extra water. Avoid activity in the heat, and although it sounds extreme, travel prepared to survive.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum
Open daily 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. PST
***The visitor’s center is located in the Furnace Creek resort area on California highway 190.***
Scotty’s Castle Visitor Center & Museum
Summer hours: 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Winter hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
***Scotty’s Castle and the Scotty’s Castle Visitor Center are located at the north end of Death Valley National park, approximately 53 miles from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and 45 miles from Stovepipe Wells Village. ***
Vehicle entrance fee: $20 for 7 days
Individual entrance fee: $10 for 7 days
Death Valley Annual Pass: $40 for one year