An Overview of Death Valley

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Describing Death Valley brings a potpourri of superlatives: hottest, driest, lowest. In

1913, the valley hit a record 134 degrees Fahrenheit! But despite its brutal image, Death

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Valley is a beloved mecca for geologists and other nature lovers. It also has a colorful

history of ghost towns!

Death Valley measures approximately 3,000 square miles. It spans the border of

California and Nevada and is the principal feature of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts

Biosphere Reserve, which is devoted to ecological conservation. The diverse landscape

features desert sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, and a vast expanse of multi-hued

rock. It is also home to uniquely adapted plants and animals. Among the mammals, for

example, are the black-tailed jackrabbit, the long-tailed pocket mouse, and the chisel-

toothed kangaroo rat!

Death Valley is surrounded by several mountain ranges, including the Sierra Nevadas, the

Amargosa Range, the Panamint Range, and the Sylvania and Owlshead Mountains.

Encircled by peaks, the valley has the lowest dry elevation in North America at 282 feet

below sea level. (The continent�s lowest point overall can be found at the bottom of Lake

Superior, but Death Valley contains the lowest spot on dry land.)

The valley is especially noted for its geologic splendor. The cliffs reveal rock layers

spanning from Precambrian to modern times. By studying the layers, geologists learn

about the earth�s condition in the distant past. For example, layers from the late

Pleistocene reveal that the valley was once filled by a freshwater lake, now dubbed Lake

Manly. The valley was partly filled again during flash flooding of 2004 and 2005. Still, at

that time the water was only two feet deep; before the last ice age, it measured 800 feet!

The 19th century saw many mining camps set up when rock layers revealed valuable

minerals. Men were drawn to gold and silver discoveries in the 1850s, and they mined

Borax in the 1880s. They gave their camps names like Chloride City, Skidoo, and

Panamint City. The mining camps usually became ghost towns within a few years.

In most cases, little remains of these Death Valley mining towns besides stories about

their lively inhabitants. Skidoo, for example, is marked only by a sign. It once had a

population of 700 and is infamous for having the only hanging in the valley. The hanged

man was Hootch Simpson, a down-on-his-luck saloon owner who tried to rob the town

bank. He was foiled and later returned to kill an employee! The townspeople hanged

Hootch that night. In fact, according to legend he was hanged twice: once for real and

once again for the benefit of photographers.

Visitors to Death Valley can ssee a few ghost town ruins, such as those of Panamint City.

Panamint was reputedly the roughest town in America! Its founders were outlaws hiding

from law enforcement. Although 2,000 people eventually resided there, Wells Fargo

refused to open a Panamint bank because of the inhabitants� lawless reputations.

Although prospectors left the valley when mining became unprofitable, Native

Americans have lived in Death Valley for more than 1,000 years. Timbisha families, who

are part of the Shoshone tribe, still reside at Furnace Creek. They received 7,500 acres of

ancestral homeland with the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act of 2000. As of 2000,

only 31 people lived at Furnace Creek, setting the record for lowest census in the nation.

Death Valley National Park is open year-round, but considering the summer heat, most

people find the valley�s winter climate more comfortable.Since 1933 Death Valley

National Park has offered extensive public works for visitors� comfort. These include

developments such as campgrounds, picnic facilities, and hundreds of miles of paved

roads.

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