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Tourist Destinations of the US: Death Valley National Park

Updated on October 1, 2014

Welcome to Death Valley

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Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, located near the border of California and Nevada is a desert environment that plays host to salt flats, badlands, canyons, valleys, mountains, and large sand dunes. It stakes claim to being the largest national park found within the contiguous United States. This unique landscape is also the hottest and driest of all national parks inside the country. Moreover, it is home to the lowest elevation in the North American continent (282 feet below sea level). Approximately 85 miles heading ESE is Mount Whitney, the highest elevation found in the lower 48 states of the US (14,505 feet). However, Death Valley is mostly known for its fluctuating temperatures and overall extreme climate. While temperatures only reach an average of 67 degrees Fahrenheit during January, it commonly gets as hot as 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the rest of the year. The hottest temperature that has ever been recorded in the Western Hemisphere (134 F) was in Death Valley during July. The area only receives about 2.3 inches of rain annually; the wettest month, January accounts for roughly 1.8 inches. Therefore, during the remainder of the year, the area stays quite dry. In spite of these harsh natural conditions, Death Valley National Park sees over one million visitors each year.

What to Expect When Visiting Death Valley National Park

The large area known as Death Valley is famous for being a land of extremes. The occasional rainstorm brings endless fields of plant life that helps sustain the valley's tremendous diversity of life. The park contains two visitor centers; one is located in a tiny town (population of 24) known as Furnace Creek; it is open daily from 8am-5pm local time. The visitor center presents an introductory slide show lasting about 15 minutes repeating throughout the day. It discusses useful information concerning the park's cultural and environmental history. From November until April, the winter season, park rangers offer several different varieties of talks, tours, and slide presentations. Guests should be aware that these programs may vary from year to year. Therefore, guests are advised to inquire at the visitor center for what is currently available. This visitor center is also home to a museum that displays Native American artifacts, photos, and historical books. The other visitor center/museum, known as Scotty's Castle Visitor Center is located in the northern portion of the park, about 53 miles from Furnace Creek.


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Scotty's Castle

Scotty's Castle is not an actual castle, nor does its namesake represent its owner or builder. This two story structure's architecture is in the style of a Spanish colonial era villa. Its construction began in 1922, not completely finishing until the early 1930s. Work on the building was delayed by property disputes with the federal government and the Great Depression. The building's name comes from Walter E. Scott, a local prospector and con artist. In an effort to bring more wealth to the valley, Scott was able to convince a wealthy investor from Chicago named Albert Johnson to invest in a local gold mine. Scott was successful, and by 1937, Johnson had acquired over 1500 acres of land which he visited regularly with his wife. The "castle" was built to be a comfortable vacation home for Johnson.

Today, Scotty's Castle is a museum whose main feature is a guided tour discussing the history of the house's interior; this tour lasts for about 55 minutes. The rangers giving the tour dress in clothes from the 1930s to match the home. This tour requires guests to purchase tickets which are valued at $15 per adult ranging from 16-61 years of age. Senior citizens are admitted for $7.50 per person. Children of ages 6-15 are also admitted for $7.50. Young children under the age of five are free of charge. The residence has been left as it was when Johnson and his wife lived in it. As such, it is a remarkably kept time capsule to the period shortly following the Great Depression. Scotty's Castle's operating hours are from 8:30am-5:30pm during the winter, and 8:45am-4:30pm during the summer, spring, and fall. In addition to educational tours and museums, Death Valley National Park is also ideal for tourists who have a love for getting close to the outdoors.


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There are a myriad of campgrounds available within the park, some more primitive than others. The campground located in Furnace Creek, near the visitor center is open year round. Its fee from mid-April until mid-October is $12 per person. During the remainder of the year, this fee is increased to $18. This campground offers 136 campsites equipped with toilets, fire pits, water, tables, and a dump station. Its elevation is 196' feet below sea level. Sunset Campground is only open from October to April; its fee is $12 per person. This large campground containing 270 campsites lacks tables and fire pits; it does have water, toilets, and a dumping station. Like Furnace Creek, Sunset is also 196' below sea level.

Campgrounds that are found at sea level include the Texas Spring and Stovepipe Wells sites. Entrance to the Texas Spring campground is priced at $14 person. It is open from October to April. This campground is home to 92 fully functional campsites that are equipped with running water, tables, fire pits, toilets, and dumping stations. Stovepipe Wells, also open from October until April, is a much smaller campground, containing only 30 campsites. These sites largely possess the same amenities as those found in Texas Spring. However, some sites may not offer tables or fire pits. Admittance to Stovepipe Wells is priced at $12 per guest.


Death Valley's Uniqueness

The large area known as Death Valley is famous for being a land of extremes. The occasional rainstorm brings endless fields of plant life that helps sustain the valley's tremendous diversity of life.

A local resident
A local resident | Source

Plan Your Trip to Death Valley!

There are five campgrounds that are found at elevations above sea level, Mesquite Spring, Emigrant, Wild Rose, Thorndike, and Mahogany Flat. Mesquite Spring campground is open all year to guests for an entrance fee of $12 per visitor. It encompasses 30 campsites that all offer water, tables, fire pits, toilets, and dumping stations. The campground's elevation is 1800 feet above sea level. Emigrant campgrounds only contain ten campsites. Unlike all the other campgrounds found in the park, it offers no structural shelter, only tents are allowed. There is no charge to camp at Emigrant, and the campground has running water, tables, and toilets. However, it lacks fire pits and a dump station. It is open year round. Wild Rose is also open throughout the year, while being free. It contains 23 campsites that have water, tables, and fire pits. Unfortunately, there are no toilets or dumping stations available at Wild Rose. The elevation of this site is 4100'. Thorndike represents the smallest campground found in Death Valley National Park. It contains only six campsites that have no water, toilets, or dumping stations. Thankfully, there are tables and fire pits available. Thorndike is only open from March-November. Its elevation is 7400 feet. Lastly, Mahogany Flat is the highest elevated campground in the park, standing at an incredible 8200 feet. Admission to this campground is free. Much like Thorndike, Mahogany Flat is without water, toilets, or dumping stations. It does however offer tables and fire pits in all ten of its campsites.

Visiting Death Valley

Death Valley

A Brief History of Death Valley

Death Valley is, and has been the home to the Timbisha tribe of natives dating back one thousand years. Their current population is only about 370 individuals. They referred to the valley as “rock paint” due to red ochre which is a paint that can be made from a certain type of clay located throughout the valley. The valley’s current name of Death Valley was coined by European- Americans in 1849 during the Great Gold Rush of that year. Oddly, during this time, only one death was recorded. From the 1850s until the 1880s, gold and silver were extensively mined. In the 1880s, the mineral borax was discovered and extracted until the early 1930s. In 1933, President of the United States Herbert Hoover declared Death Valley a national monument entitled to federal protection. The monument was designated a national park in 1994 under the presidential administration of William Clinton. During this time, Death Valley National Park was expanded to include both the Eureka and Saline Valleys.

Haunting Beauty of Death Valley

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Conclusion

Death Valley National Park is the ideal tourist destination for those interested in seeing nature in its unbridled state. It is a vacation made for guests that are physically fit enough for hiking and camping. More, it is perfect for families or individuals travelling on a budget. It should be noted that only campers who have experience in high elevations should camp at the highest campground which is about 1 miles high.

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