Set along the California–Nevada border, Death Valley is just 130 miles (209 km) northwest of Las Vegas. It was designated a national park in 1994. Death Valley is packed with incredible landscapes featuring spectacularly jagged mountains, deep canyons, rolling dunes and pristine salt flats. Do you want to know some cool facts about Death Valley National Park? This post has got you covered.
Let’s take a look at these 14 interesting Death Valley facts that will surprise you.
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Cool and Informative Facts about Death Valley National Park
1. Largest National Park In The Contiguous U.S.
Death Valley is the largest national park in the USA outside Alaska. It is spread over a whopping 3.4 million acres (13,650 sq km) of wilderness lands.
Alaska is home to even bigger national parks like Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, Denali National Park.
Death Valley is bordered by the Panamint Mountain Range to the west and Amargosa Mountain Range to the east.
The largest national park title was held by Yellowstone National Park (2.2 million acres) until the creation of Death Valley National Park in 1994.
2. Lowest Point In North America
At 282 feet (85 m) below sea level, Badwater Basin is not only the lowest point in the U.S. but in all of North America. The Badwater Basin is known for its sprawling salt flats.
In ancient times, probably several thousands of years ago, an inland lake existed at this site. With no external outflow to other water bodies, it accumulated a huge load of sediments including salt.
The lake eventually vanished leaving beautifully shaped salt crystals behind. It occasionally gets reformed if there is heavy rainfall like it happened in 2005.
The quaint landscape of the Badwater Basin is a major draw for tourists. It is located 17 miles (27 km) south of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road.
3. Hottest Place On Earth
Death Valley holds the record for the highest air temperature ever registered on earth.
On July 10, 1913, a temperature of 134°F (57°C) was measured at Furnace Creek. Summer temperatures are regularly high, often exceeding 120°F (49°C).
Coincidentally, Death Valley’s lowest temperature was also recorded in the same year. The temperature dipped to 15°F (-10°C) at Furnace Creek on January 8, 1913.
4. Driest Place In North America
Rainfalls are rare in Death Valley. It gets less than 2 inches (5 cm) average precipitation a year. That makes it the driest spot in the USA as well as in North America.
For rains to occur in Death Valley, moist Pacific air has to cross the Sierra Nevada and Panamint ranges.
The high mountains largely obstruct moisture-laden air from reaching the valley. So, Death Valley barely gets any rainfall and stays dry for the most part.
Furthermore, here is another interesting fact about Death Valley National Park. Rains skipped Death Valley for the whole year in 1929 and 1953. It didn’t receive even a drop of rain.
5. Death Valley Gets Its Haunting Name From The Lost ’49ers
The name Death Valley was given by a group of pioneers who came here looking for gold fields but got lost.
After the discovery of California’s first gold mine in 1848, thousands of pioneers rushed to the valley in search of gold mines. One of the groups died while many others feared death.
They are called The Lost ’49ers because a majority of them started their journey in 1949.
6. Wildlife Is Abundant in Death Valley
On the face of it, Death Valley is bleak and bare but it hosts a great variety of wildlife.
It is home to more than 50 mammal species, and several types of fish, reptiles and amphibians are also found here.
Carnivores in the park include coyotes, kit foxes, bobcats and mountain lions. Coyotes are the easiest to spot.
Besides big animals, there are many smaller species like rabbits, squirrels, bats, tortoises, rats and mice.
Death Valley seems an unlikely place to spot fish. However, some fish like Devils Hole pupfish and Salt Creek pupfish have evolved to survive in the desert environment.
Fun Facts About Death Valley National Park Animals
- Jackrabbit’s over-sized ears help them stay cool during extreme summer heat.
- Kangaroo rats have so well adapted to the harsh desert climate that they can survive with almost no water. Their body extracts needed water from the food items they consume.
- Desert tortoises hibernate for up to nine months each year to protect themselves from extreme weather conditions.
7. Tallest Sand Dune In California
Eureka Dunes are acclaimed as California’s tallest sand dune.
Located in the northernmost corner of Death Valley, they rise more than 680 feet from base to summit. Eureka Dunes stretch about 3 miles long and 1 mile wide.
Sand dunes occupy less than one percent of the desert yet they are stunning.
The four other dunes in the Death Valley National Park are Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Saline Valley Dunes, Panamint Dunes and Ibex Dunes.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the largest and the most popular amongst visitors. It is the only place in the park where you can indulge in sandboarding.
8. Wildflowers Bloom In This Harsh Desert
Death Valley National Park is rain-deprived but that doesn’t stop resilient wildflowers from blooming in the valley.
In springtime, otherwise barren floors of the valley get populated with colourful wildflowers.
The park is widely known for its super blooms. It occurs only when there are significant rainstorms in fall and winter. The last two super blooms were in the years 2005 and 2016.
Badwater Road, Green Valley Road and Zabriskie Point are some of the best spots in the park to see wildflowers.
9. Mysteriously Wandering Rocks
If you are intrigued by discovering so many incredible facts about Death Valley National Park, here is one more.
Racetrack Playa, a flat dry lakebed located in Death Valley, exhibits one of the most bizarre natural phenomena on earth.
Rocks of varying sizes magically move on the surface of racetrack playa leaving visible trails behind. Some of the rocks are really big, weighing up to 700 pounds (320 kg).
The mystery of sliding rocks was eventually unraveled by researchers in 2013. Apparently, substantial rainfall followed by cold winter nights leads to the formation of ice sheets in the Playa.
When it’s daytime, the ice melts and creates large floating panels. Driven by wind, these ice panels push the rocks forward creating wandering rocks illusion.
Racetrack playa lies in a remote location of the valley, around 83 miles away from Furnace Creek.
10. Death Valley Was Mined For More Than 100 Years
Mineral-rich Death Valley lured prospectors and miners for more than a century. The ores extracted in the valley included gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tungsten, borax, talc and sulfur.
The last active mine, Billie Mine winded up its operations in 2005. As you explore the valley you may stumble upon several abandoned mining sites.
Fun Facts About Death Valley National Park Mines
- Harmony Borax Works was one of the earliest commercial mines that operated successfully in the valley for 6-long years. It is known for its twenty-mule team, a wagon used in hauling borax out of Death Valley.
- Keane Wonder Mine was one of the most successful gold mines in Death Valley in its heyday.
11. Highest Point In The Contiguous U.S. Is Less Than 100 Miles From Badwater Basin
At 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) elevation, Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States. Badwater Basin, the lowest point in all of the US, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) from Mount Whitney.
12. A Volcanic Eruption Created The Giant Ubehebe Crater
Ubehebe Crater is one of the most spectacular geologic sites in Death Valley.
It was created about 2100 years ago by a massive volcanic explosion which is considered the most recent volcanic event in Southern California.
Ubehebe Crater is huge, 600 ft (180 meters) deep and 0.5 mile (0.8 km) wide. It resembles a meteorite crater.
It is located about 56 miles north of Furnace Creek. You can hike the loop around the crater to explore.
Read this post to know which all Southern California national parks you must visit: The 3 Best National Parks In Southern California.
Interesting Facts About Death Valley National Park Craters
- Ubehebe is not the lone crater in the park. Though it is the largest, there are at least a dozen smaller craters clustered over a 3 sq km area.
- Death Valley craters were formed by maar volcanoes. Such explosions occur when hot magma encounters ground water.
13. Designated as Dark Sky Park by IDA
Death Valley is a wonderful place for stargazing. It offers astounding views of the Milky Way when nights are sufficiently dark.
Here is one of the cool facts about Death Valley National Park.
It is California’s first Dark Sky Park. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) designated Death Valley as a Dark Sky Park in 2013.
In Dark Sky Parks, artificial lighting is restricted to enable superior stargazing experiences. Harmony Borax Works and Dante’s View are great spots in the park for observing starry night skies.
14. Death Valley Featured In Many Movies
You might have seen Death Valley locations in several movies. If you didn’t notice yet, these are some of the popular movies filmed here.
- Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope: Tatooine desert scenes feature Artists Palette, Golden Canyon and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
- Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi: Twenty-Mule Team Canyon featured in the movie.
- Zabriskie Point ( released in 1970), The Oasis (released in 1984)
How To Explore
Death Valley National Park is a short 2-hour drive from Las Vegas.
The park is open year-round but it is blistering hot in summers. Spring (March-April) and Fall (October-November) are the best for visiting Death Valley.
The winter months (December to February) are not bad either because daytime temperatures are mild. It can get pretty cold at the night though, especially on higher elevations.
You can easily explore Death Valley as a day trip from Las Vegas. If you have time on your hands, consider staying there for a day or two. The park is vast and there is a lot to see and do.
Furnace Creek is one of the best locations to stay for first-time visitors. It provides quick access to the park’s major attractions like Dante’s View, Artist’s Drive and Harmony Borax Works. Book Your Stay At Death Valley National Park.
Over To You Now…
I hope you enjoyed reading these amazing facts about Death Valley National Park.
How many of them did you know already? Which one captured your attention the most? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.