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Death Valley National Park

On October 31, 1994, Death Valley became a National Park. Located in eastern California’s Mojave Desert, Death Valley is in the lowest, driest place in North America, and the hottest in the world. Its valley floor is 86 m (282 ft) below sea level and the prehistoric location of an inland lake of varying size derived from freshwater sources. Geologic and climate changes plus evaporation reduced the lake to its present floor of sands and salt flats.

The sun heats the valley floor that heats the air that rises. The valley is so low, the rising heated air is caught inside the height of its surrounding mountains. Because the valley is so low, there is greater distance between its base and the top of the atmosphere that produces higher atmospheric pressure on the heated air that is essentially trapped over the surface of the narrow valley. The heat, pressure, and geographic size combine to produce the valley’s signature oven-like climate of circulating “cooking” winds. These continue to rise and fall between day and night temperatures to perpetuate a hot, dry environment.

Here, life forms have adapted to tolerate heat, drought, and the ephemeral or temporary bodies of water. There are still days when flash floodwater revives Lake Badwater for a short time before the heat and dryness “disappear” it… again. Desert cacti bloom, sand verbena, rock mimulus, and scarlet locoweed provide sudden pockets of bright colour. Life includes ingeniously camouflaged reptiles, resourceful amphibians and fish. Birds seeking shade and oases move through the transition zones between desert and mountaintop. Seeps and springs tempt growth of mesquite thickets, pinyon forests, and the occasional bristlecone pine and alpine wildflowers. Mammals from bats to bighorn sheep and pocket mice to mountain lions range over the valley’s transition ecosystems from desert fringe to alpine height at elevations and humidities they can tolerate.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage