Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is the largest of the U.S. National Parks that can be found outside of Alaska. Covering more than three million acres, it can mostly be found in southeastern California, with a small portion extending into the state of Nevada. The park’s location puts it approximately 290 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. A very inhospitable land, Death Valley National Park gets its name from the suffering that was incurred by gold hunters trying to make their way to the California mountains. Many of these gold hunters perished en route, and it is easy to understand why. Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America. That’s not to say that it is always hot in Death Valley National Park, however. Winter nights can see the temperatures dip below freezing.

After the California gold rush, the area that is today Death Valley National Park became a mining ground, with borax being the most heavily mined mineral. The rather lucrative borax mining era more specifically began in the late 1880s. By the late 1920s, the Death Valley region was the number one source of borax in the world. Hauling the mineral out of the desert profitably required a big wagon, which required a 20-mule team to pull it. This gave birth to the famous 20 Mule Team Borax trade brand of washing powder. From 1952 to 1975, the brand sponsored the television series "Death Valley Days" that was hosted by Ronald Reagan from 1962 to 1965 - the last of his professional roles as an actor. The 1920s was also when Death Valley tourism started to develop. Among other things, people came to indulge in the region’s austere beauty and serenity. Natural springs were also part of the allure, as they were thought to have curative and restorative properties. In 1933, Death Valley was designated as a National Monument. After being expanded, the protected area became a National Park in 1994.

Death Valley National Park Camping

Death Valley National Park is open year-round and can be a fantastic region to explore. Protecting the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert, it is a land of mountains, canyons, valleys, badlands, sand dunes, and salt flats. Complementing the landscape are various manmade attractions, the likes of which include the Spanish Revival-style ranch that is Scotty’s Castle. Regardless of the reason for visiting, tourists who are exploring Death Valley National Park can stay within the park’s boundaries overnight. In addition to the various Death Valley National Park hotels, there are campsites to select from. Within the park are nine different campgrounds, and they are all first-come, first-served. The majority of the campsites are limited to no more than eight people and can accommodate either two vehicles or one recreational vehicle. There are only two group sites. They are found at the Furnace Creek Campground and can accommodate up to 40 people and 10 vehicles each. Recreational vehicles can not be parked at the group sites. A maximum of four pets are allowed at the individual campsites, and they must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet at all times. Water and flush toilets are about the only amenities at the Death Valley National Park campgrounds.

Death Valley Wildflowers

Death Valley Wildflowers
Death Valley Wildflowers

Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes. The highest point in the park – Telescope Peak – rises to an elevation of 11,049 feet above sea level, while the lowest point – Badwater Basin – lies at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is actually the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere after Laguna del Carbon in Argentina (344 feet below sea level). Also, while the Death Valley region is very dry and harsh on the whole, snow often covers the mountaintops in the winter and rare rainstorms encourage the growth of colorful wildflowers. Death Valley is famous for its wildflower displays, with spring being the best time of the year to see them. It is important to note, however, that while every spring sees the growth of wildflowers in Death Valley National Park, the displays vary considerably from year to year due to rainfall amounts.

Death Valley Sand Dunes

Death Valley Sand Dunes
Death Valley Sand Dunes

Many first time visitors to Death Valley National Park expect to encounter a land that is covered in sand dunes. Truth be told, however, less than one percent of the park’s terrain is covered with dunes. There simply aren’t many areas within Death Valley National Park where sand can be trapped by geographic features. As for the dunes that do form, it can be a joy to admire them, especially since most people don’t see sand dunes on a daily basis back home. Visitors can also hike among the dunes. The Mesquite Flat Dunes are the best known and easiest to visit. They are found near Stovepipe Wells and include three types of dunes – linear, star shaped, and crescent.

Stovepipe Wells

Stovepipe Wells
Stovepipe Wells

Situated along State Route 190 near the center of Death Valley National Park is the village of Stovepipe Wells. An excellent travel base for the region, this village features the 83-room Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel. Also found at Stovepipe Wells are a rustic campground with 190 sites, 14 separate full-hookup RV sites, a general store, a gift shop, a restaurant, and a saloon. Those who secure an RV site can enjoy complimentary use of the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel swimming pool and access free Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby. Campground guests can use the hotel pool and showers for a nominal fee.

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