Death Valley National Park

Welcome to the driest as well as hottest USA sanctuary! Despite of this, the Death Valley National Park is very famous among the tourists. Over 7,00,000 visitors come here annually just to explore its unusual geological features, vistas, historic sites, cool nights, and the desert flora as well as fauna.

The entire area is actually an incredible desert of snowy mountains, water-fluted canyons, flowing sand dunes, multi-hued rock layers, and million acres of wilderness. The park is called so due to the demise a non-Native American group who came in 1849 to hunt for a shortcut to the California gold fields in winter.

Located in the dry Great Basin in the east of Sierra Nevada, the Death Valley National Park stretches across a vast landscape to encompass the Saline Valley, Death Valley, partial Panamint Valley, and some mountain ranges. This is why it ranks sixth in the list of the largest parks of the continent.

Geological highlights

The entire valley is like a tomb where there exist the most ancient rocks that are some 1.7 billion years old. There are two playas: salt-surfaced as well as flat land. The latter one is the most accessible via a paved road and is in the south at Badwater. Here, look for the Western Hemisphere’s second-lowest point at 282 feet below sea level, which is known as the Badwater Basin. Coming to the other playa, this is called the Racetrack Playa and is quite distantly located at the other end of the park. To access this one, a 2W drive of 30 miles along a road in gravel is required, from Ubehebe Crater to Teakettle Junction. However, this is not possible during the severe rainfalls. However, I recommend you to explore this playa as it is only here where you can spot the mysteriously shifting rocks making a trail.One more stunning landscape is of the salt pans – among the world’s largest ones and rich in minerals such as hydrates, salts, and borax. From the Ashford Mill Site to the Salt Creek Hills stretches the largest one for 40 miles.


Flora and fauna highlights

Although this is a harsh desert area, it is very surprising to know that a multitude of plants and animals survive here in their habitats ranging from the saltpan below sea level to the sub-alpines on the peak of Telescope. Among the worth watching zones of vegetation are the Creosote Bush, mesquite, and Desert Holly (lower altitude ones) as well as blackbrush, pinyon-juniper, and Bristlecone Pine (higher altitudes). It is in these areas along with the deserted zones that you can easily spot over 50 native mammals, over 300 birds, 30 reptiles, few amphibians, and handful of native fish.

In the pinyon-juniper areas, I could spot the Bighorn Sheep, Kit Foxes, Coyotes, Cougars (mountain lions), Mule Deer, and Bobcats. In addition, the Sphinx Moth was spotted on the Mosaic Canyon’s Rock Nettle as well as the Death Valley Pupfish in Salt Creek. There are three biotic life zones: The Canadian, the lower Sonoran, and the Arctic/Alpine (Panamint Range). Some of the plant species here are just so native that they cannot be seen anywhere else on Earth.

Activities

To explore the Death Valley National Park, there are many options for you: personal vehicle, bicycle, four-wheel drive, mountain bike, or simply hike. I would suggest motorcycle biking as that offers a leisure experience. Most of the historic sites as well as scenic points are along the paved roads to Dante’s View, State Route 190, the Scotty’s Castle Road, and the Badwater Road. Worth a few, do take up the history tour of the Scotty’s Castle.

If you have a licensed vehicle, this opens up to you the door to more than 350 miles of 4WD as well as unpaved roads featuring wilderness hiking, historical locations, and camping. The hiking trails are as per the different levels. And yes, cross-country hiking is also possible here via which you can explore a majority of backcountry areas.

Accommodations

Camping is possible in the Death Valley National Park on its nine campgrounds. There are also overnight backcountry camping sites for which permits are required. You can take them from the Visitor Center on the State Route 190. Hotels are there in the Death Valley: Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Furnace Creek Inn, and Ranch Resort.

Best time

October 15 to May 15.

North America