The name is a little scary. Death Valley National Park doesn’t exactly sound like a picnic. It sounds like a desolate place — harsh and rugged. And certainly, it doesn’t sound like a place that is full of wildlife or rich with scenic views.

But the truth is, Death Valley is all of these things. It’s desolate and lush, frightening and beautiful. That’s because it encapsulates all that nature has to offer. It’s extreme in both its beauty and its harsh realities. 

10 Things to Know About Death Valley National Park

If you’re planning a visit to Death Valley, you’re sure to encounter the wonders and the strength of Mother Nature. To make sure your trip is successful, satisfying, and safe, there are a few things you need to know. Here are 10 tips about Death Valley National Park to make your visit memorable for all the right reasons. 

1. The weather can be extreme

On a list of fun Death Valley facts, you would likely see that it is the hottest place on Earth and the driest place in North America. This extreme weather is due to the deep basin where it sits and the large mountain ranges that surround it.

Surprisingly, despite its desert location, it’s also prone to flash floods when it does rain, as well as sudden dust storms. 

This makes it important to keep a Death Valley National Park map on hand at all times. Flooding and other natural disasters can obstruct and close roadways and trails, so it’s imperative to know alternate routes.

Before heading out, check the Death Valley National Park weather, which you’ll find conveniently posted at their website.

2. The Heat is Serious

Though the record high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded way back in 1913, the heat of Death Valley summer’s is no joke.

Being prepared with extra water is not just a friendly tip to keep in mind. It’s a necessity for your own safety. 

Record temperatures

If you need some idea of how hot Death Valley National Park can get, take a look at the records set for high temperatures.

On July 10, 1913, temperatures recorded at the aptly named Furnace Creek reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit. During the same time period, it reached 129 degrees.

Ironically, the previous winter, Death Valley National Park reached its coldest ever recording. On January 8, the temperature measured 15 degrees at Furnace Creek.

Long heatwaves

As well as reaching record temperatures, Death Valley National Parks can boast some of the longest heat spells. In 2001, the park reached 100° F or higher for 154 days out of the year.

Droughts

Back in 1929 and 1953, no rain fell on Death Valley park at all. The annual rainfall is a scant 2.4 inches per year.

3. The Wildlife is Diverse

From beautiful wildflowers that blossom when the conditions are just right to bighorn sheep that have adapted to live on little water, Death Valley is actually full of life.

So, it makes for a great place to learn about evolution and the ways in which plants and animals adapt to survive. The park is full of creatures that have found a way to live in a place that is practically unlivable. 

Desert grazers

One of the park’s largest animals, desert bighorn sheep can grow up to 5 feet long and 3 feet high at the shoulders. The horns on a fully grown male can weigh as much as 30 pounds.

The key factor in the bighorn’s survival is their agility. Their climbing skills gives them the ability to move quickly and nimbly from water source to water source while avoiding any predators.

Other hoofed animals you’ll find at the park include burros, wild horse, and mule deer.

Death Valley predators

With herd animals, predators are sure to follow. These mostly solitary animals may prove stealthy and difficult to find. However, the park provides a home for a number of large predators.

You may see mountain lions, bobcats, or coyotes. Smaller mammals include kit foxes and gray foxes.

Coyote in Death Valley National Park

Image: Public Domain, by Kurt Moses, via NPS

Small mammals

Although rarely seen, Death Valley is full of small rodents that have adapted to live in this harsh environment.

The desert surroundings are full of several species of rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks. Gophers, mice, rats, and other rodents also call Death Valley National Park their home.

4. It has the lowest point in North America

You might not sit around asking yourself, “what is the lowest point in North America?” but it just so happens to be in Death Valley, at a place called Badwater Basin. It’s important to know this not only because this low point influences the extreme weather in Death Valley, but also because you can’t miss going to Badwater Basin to pose by the sign.

5. The salt flats are stunning

The Salt Flats of Death Valley are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The massive Badwater Basin acts as a draining pool for the surrounding area, and as the arid climate evaporates the water, only the salt crystals and minerals remain.

The result is a stunning, crystallized landscape with strange patterns that change constantly.   

Badwater Basin was named for the undrinkable water that helps form the salt flats. The high sodium content persists despite the nearby spring that feeds the basin from underground.

Image: Public Domain, by Ky0n Cheng, via Flickr.
“Badwater Basin” at Death Valley National Park in the evening.

6. You Can’t Beat the Stargazing

In general, it’s not considered a positive thing when your vacation spot can be described as desolate, but it is when it comes to stargazing.

Death Valley boasts some of the darkest skies in America, and it has the distinction of being one of three U.S. National Parks designated as a dark park by the International Dark-Sky Association.

7. You can spot roadrunners year round

Before you read any further, you might have to pause to wrap your head around the fact that not only are roadrunners real, but you can see them in action.

Death Valley is home to a rich bird population, making it an ideal place for bird watching. Its long list of bird species includes none other than the infamous roadrunner, and you can spot them, but of course not catch them, any time of year. 

8. It has the landscape of another world

Take a scenic tour along Artists Drive and discover the volcanic hills that resemble Mars more than Earth. The rock formations, the colors, the grandeur, are all capable of taking your breath away. 

9. You Can Explore Sand Dunes

Up until right about now, you might have assumed that you would have to venture all the way to the Sahara to see sand dunes. However, you’ll find them right here in America. You can follow a paved road up to Mesquite Flat Sand dunes, and explore the various shapes and formations in the sand.

10. You Can Reserve A Camping Spot

Most Death Valley National Park camping is done on a first-come-first-served basis. But the Furnace Creek Campground allows you to reserve a camping spot. Most importantly, this can help take some of the stress out of planning your visit because you’ll know you have a place to stay.

And luckily, there are a number of other National Park campsites within a short distance. Although some of them are closed during the hot months of summer, and other feature only the most primitive accommodations. You can check the park website for availability and locations.

Easily Plan the Liveliest Trip to Death Valley 

From extremely high temperatures, to the lowest point in North America, to the best Death Valley National Park Camping, you now have all the tools to start planning your perfect trip.  

Sure, Death Valley National Park may have an ominous name, but it’s clearly full of life, adventure, and fun. As you plan your visit, you can be confident that you know some of the park’s biggest attractions, biggest secrets, and most interesting facts.

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