With an ominous name like “Death Valley” you have to be dramatic and Death Valley fits that description in legend and reality. In 1849 a group of people on their way to the California gold fields left their wagon train to follow what they thought was a short cut map.
But the map was inaccurate and led them into an area that had not been charted by Anglos before, although the Timbisha Shoshone tribe had called it home for two thousand years. For several months the wanderings of these lost emigrants brought them to the brink of thirst and starvation. Legend has it that as they finally staggered out, someone stood on a hill and bid adieu saying “Goodbye, Death Valley”.
That name fueled fantastic myths and tragic tales that set a standard for embellishing the truth about this desert wilderness. But the truth about Death Valley is far more intriguing.
- It’s the largest National Park in the lower 48 states with 3.3 million acres.
- It was established as a National Monument in 1933 and as a National Park on Oct. 31, 1994
- It has the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at Badwater (282 feet below sea level)
- It receives less than 2 ” of rain a year and has 0-5% average humidity
- Summer temperatures can soar to over 120 degrees for weeks on end, with the highest recorded temperature of 134 degrees set in 1913
- Among animals that call it home there are 37 reptile species, 6 kinds of amphibians, and 58 species of mammals
- 347 species of birds have been found in the park
- 1,000 plant species have been found in the park
- During the early 1900′s there were boomtowns with fascinating histories like Greenwater, the town that had no water; Schwab, the town owned by women; Harrisburg, the town that should have been named Harrisberry and Panamint City, a town so lawless that silver was cast in 400 pound cubes for transporting so that outlaws couldn’t steal it
- It was the home of notorious Death Valley Scotty and a cast of colorful prospectors
- During World War II it was a temporary haven for 65 Japanese Americans whose lives had been threatened at Manzanar War Relocation Camp
- Earthquakes, volcanoes, lakes and floods have shaped its rugged terrain
While Death Valley is a land of extremes it doesn’t mean that your visit has to be. When most of North America is in the grip of fall and winter, Death Valley is an oasis of temperate weather which makes it popular for RV travelers and those who like to continue their summer activities year around. Death Valley National Park is home to the only eighteen hole golf course in a National Park and each of the three hotels in the Park have their own swimming pools.
If more rugged activities appeal to you, there are almost three million acres of wilderness for hiking and four wheel drive roads that lead to some of the most spectacular areas of the park. If you are car touring there are almost two hundred miles of scenic drives to explore. And many of Death Valley’s main attractions are wheelchair accessible to visitors with walking difficulties. No matter which activity is your cup of tea, every trip should start with a visit to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to pay your park entrance fee and check with the park rangers to get advice on the best seasonal attractions. Follow us as we take you around the park highlighting the various attractions.