The Blazingly Hot Death Valley
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The Blazingly Hot Death Valley

Lowest, hottest and driest all in one, the hostile desert valley is also a place of astonishing magnificence. To the local Indians, Death Valley, near California's Nevada border, was known as Tomesha--"Ground Aflame". And with good reason: soil temperatures in this hottest, driest spot in North America have been known to reach a scorching heat 190° F (88° C). Air temperatures are equally oven-like.

One summer day in 1913 at Furnace Creek, the temperature in the shade reached a record 134° F (57° C), the highest ever recorded in the United States.  Rainfall on the valley floor, in turn, average less than 2 inches (50 millemeters) per year, and in some years no rain falls at all.

(Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley ) Image source

Yet the valley is far from lifeless.  Mesquites, creosote bushes, cactuses, and a wealth of wildflowers all thrive there.  Animal life ranges from tiny pupfish that inhabit isolated springs to lizards, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and even herds of wild burros.

(Red Cathedral as viewed from the Golden Canyon trail)  Image source

The valley--the central feature of Death Valley National Monument--extends north to south for some 140 miles (225 kilometers).  Bordered in to the east by the Amargosa Range and to the west by the Panamints, its width varies from 5 to 15 miles (8 to 24 kilometers).  Geologically, the valley is known as a graben.  It formed as an enormous block of the earth’s crust shifted downward along the fault lines while neighboring blocks moved upward to form the fringing mountains.

(Devil's Golf Course) Image source

The down dropping of the valley over the course of time was tremendous.  One spot near a small salt pond known as Badwater stands at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level--the lowest bit of land in the Western Hemisphere.  Just a short distance away, in spectacular contrast, Telescope Peak, the highest point in the monument, rises to an elevation of 11,049 feet (3,368 meters).

(Telescope Peak viewed from Devil's Golf Course) Image source

(Artist's Drive) Image source

To the north of Badwater is an area known as the Devil’s Golf Course.  Modeled by the wind and infrequent rainfall, thick salt deposits form a fantastically corrugated expanse of jagged spires, ridges and troughs.  Still farther to the north is the Racetrack, a flat, clay-filled former lakebed.  Scattered across its surface are boulders, each with a track in its wake tracing the movement of the boulder across the clay.  Apparently the rocks are pushed by strong winds after rains, when a film of water makes the surface slippery.  Elsewhere in the monument, spectacular sand dunes, rugged badlands, deep canyons, and snowcapped peaks vie for attention in one of North America’s strangest landscapes.

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Comments (9)

Very interesting article about an exteme place! Voted. : )

I was there long ago as a kid.

I hear if a person survived after being stuck in Death Valley for a couple days, he or she would either be extremely lucky or a well prepared hiker. Excellent article Eddie.

Very interesting and informative article with beautiful pictures. thank you Eddie. Thanks for your friendship and support.

Very interesting. Never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing.

I have traveled here and you have detailed it well.Thank you.

Good job here Ed.

Very interesting facts about this place, kabayan.

Excellent work.