Cornforth Images

Death Valley National Park

California is home to an abundance of National Parks. One of the largest, Death Valley National Park is a mostly arid park located east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It covers 5,219 square miles, encompassing Saline Valley, a large part of Panamint Valley, almost all of Death Valley, and parts of several mountain ranges. It is a superlative desert of streaming sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons and three million acres of stone wilderness. The natural environment of the area has been profoundly shaped by its geology. The oldest rocks are extensively metamorphosed and at least 1.7 billion years old. Ancient warm, shallow seas deposited marine sediments until rifting opened the Pacific Ocean. Additional sedimentation occurred until a subduction zone formed off the coast. This uplifted the region out of the sea and created a line of volcanoes. Later the crust started to pull apart, creating the current Basin and Range landform. Valleys filled with sediment and, during the wet times of ice ages, with lakes. Death Valley summers are extremely hot and dry, with temperatures commonly above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is the hottest and driest of the national parks in the United States. It also features the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and the lowest point in North America at Badwater, which is 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. It is home to many species of plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh desert environment. Some examples include Creosote Bush, Bighorn Sheep, Coyote, and the Death Valley Pupfish, a survivor of much wetter times. Approximately 95% of the park is designated as wilderness. Death Valley National Park is visited annually by more than 770,000 visitors who come to enjoy its diverse geologic features, desert wildlife, historic sites, scenery, clear night skies and the solitude of the extreme desert environment.

The best locations for photographing Death Valley include the salt flats at Badwater at sunrise, Artists’ Pallete, Zabriske Point, the Mesquite Flat sand dunes, and the difficult to reach Racetrack where rocks seem to move on their own.