Death Valley National Park
Often overlooked and passed by purely from name association, the 3.4 million acre Death Valley National Park is not only the largest park in the continental USA but 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 long, between six and thirteen miles wide and is surround by steep mountain ranges: the Panamint mountains to the west, and the Black, Funeral, and Grapevine mountains to the east. And its 3 million acres of wilderness and rich cultural history make it a lifetime's work to explore all that the valley has to offer.
Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world. Air temperature over 120 degrees F are common during the summer months of June, July, August and September and ground temperatures are usually up to 50 percent higher. The record high in the park was recorded in 1913 at a blazing 134 degrees F (56.7 degrees C). This is second only to a 136 degree F (57.8 degrees C) temperature taken in Libya in 1922.
Fortunately, temperatures from November through March are mild with highs averaging in the 60s and 70s with winter nighttime lows usually in the 40s. This makes the winter and early spring the best seasons to visit here.
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 eventually depositing them in the valley. These deposits are evident in the form of the gigantic Alluvial fans seen all 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 at Telescope Peak and are usually covered with snow from November to May, making a breathtaking backdrop to this unique desert climate.
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 live a nocturnal lifestyle in order to escape the searing climate and can be difficult to spot.
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.
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.
The nearest major cities to Death Valley are Las Vegas (which can be accessed by plane, bus and the Amtrak train) and Barstow which can be accessed by bus and the Amtrak train. From these cities you will need to rent a car as there is no public transportation to and from the park nor within, advance reservations are recommended. There is also a small airport for private plane access if you can afford such method of transportation.
The standard route to access the park via the highway is through Highway 190 both from the east and the west. Details for this and other more adventurous ways in and out of the park are listed below.
Many other more adventurous routes into the park are also available particularly for high clearance and 4x4 vehicles. Please reference the park map for details. 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 the SR 178 west from Shoshone.
Note: Some of the roads in can occasionally be snowed in at the passes may require chains in the winter. Please reference the Death Valley Morning Report for current weather and road conditions.
However if you are planning to visit many different National Parks in the USA you may want to purchase a National Parks Pass for $50 when you enter the your first park.
A vehicle is highly recommended although during the more temperate seasons such as the fall and spring a nice bike ride may be in order. But be forewarned that climactic conditions in the park can be extreme so always check the Death Valley Weather 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.
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, dont 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.
There are 3 in-park lodging facilities in Death Valley National Park.
Backcountry camping is allowed 2 miles away from any developed area, paved road, or "day use only" area. Due to our rough dirt roads, backcountry roadside camping is generally only accessible to visitors with high clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Follow Desert Survival guidelines
The 395, Mt. Witney, the Sierras, Las Vegas,