DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Death Valley National Park is a national park in the United States. Straddling the border of California and Nevada, located east of the Sierra Nevada, it occupies an interface zone between the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts in the United States. The park protects the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert and contains a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. It is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve. Approximately 91% of the park is a designated wilderness area. It is the hottest, driest and lowest of the national parks in the United States. The second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere is in Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The park 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 from much wetter times.
A series of Native American groups inhabited the area from as early as 7000 BC, most recently the Timbisha around 1000 AD who migrated between winter camps in the valleys and summer grounds in the mountains. A group of European-Americans that became stuck in the valley in 1849 while looking for a shortcut to the gold fields of California gave the valley its name, even though only one of their group died there. Several short-lived boom towns sprang up during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to mine gold and silver. The only long-term profitable ore to be mined was borax, which was transported out of the valley with twenty-mule teams. The valley later became the subject of books, radio programs, television series, and movies. Tourism blossomed in the 1920s, when resorts were built around Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. Death Valley National Monument was declared in 1933 and the park was substantially expanded and became a national park in 1994.
The natural environment of the area has been shaped largely by its geology. The valley itself is actually a graben. 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 glacial periods, with lakes, such as Lake Manly.
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The salt flats in Badwater Basin cover nearly 200 square miles. Salt flats are too harsh for most plants and animals to survive, yet are quite fragile. Delicate crystals are easily crushed and the relatively thin upper crust of salt can break through to the mud layer below.
Sodium Chloride—better known as table salt—makes up the majority of salts on Badwater Basin. Other evaporative minerals found here include calcite, gypsum, and borax. The source of Badwater’s salts is Death Valley’s drainage system of 9,000 square miles—an area larger than New Hampshire. Rain falling on distant peaks creates floods that rush ever lower. Along the way, minerals dissolve from rocks and join the flood. Here, at the lowest elevation, floods come to rest, forming temporary lakes. As the water evaporates, minerals concentrate until only the salts remain. After thousands of years, enough salts have washed in to produce layer upon layer of salt crust.
The vast, surreal salt flats of Badwater Basin change constantly. Salt crystals expand, pushing the crust of salt into rough, chaotic forms. Newly formed crystals ooze between mudcracks, sketching strange patterns on the surface of the salt flat. Passing rainstorms wash off windblown dust and generate a fresh layer of blinding white salt. Floods create temporary lakes that dissolve salts back into solution, starting the process all over again.
At 5,475 ft., the most breathtaking viewpoint in Death Valley park. Facing west, the view of the Panamint Mountains towering over the lowest point (-282ft.) in North America (Badwater Basin) offers one of the best sunrises in the park. The barely visible mountains on the far western horizon are the Sierra Nevadas, home to the highest point (14,505ft.) in the contiguous United States.
DEATH VALLEY JUNCTION & AMARGOSA OPERA HOUSE
Death Valley Junction is home to the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, where resident Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows from the late 1960s until her last show in February 2012. The hotel is still operating next to the opera house. There are no gas stations, and only one restaurant.
In 1914, the Death Valley Railroad started operating between Ryan, California and Death Valley Junction. It carried borax until 1928, when operations ceased. The name of the town was changed to Death Valley Junction from Amargosa. From 1923 to 1925 the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed buildings in the town, hiring architect Alexander Hamilton McCulloch to design a Spanish Colonial Revival whistle stop centered at the hotel, theater and office complex building, now known as the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel.
In 1967 dancer and actress Marta Becket happened to visit and became enamored with the theater, and with help from benefactors, she leased, then purchased, the hotel and theater complex. In 1980 the town was included in the National Register of Historic Places as the “Death Valley Junction Historic District.”
DEVIL’S GOLF COURSE
Lake Manly once covered the valley to a depth of 30 feet (9.1 m). The salt in the Devil’s Golf Course consists of the minerals that were dissolved in the lake’s water and left behind in the Badwater Basin when the lake evaporated. With an elevation several feet above the valley floor at Badwater, the Devil’s Golf Course remains dry, allowing weathering processes to sculpt the salt there into complicated formations. Through exploratory holes drilled by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, prior to Death Valley becoming a national monument in 1934, it was discovered that the salt and gravel beds of the Devil’s Golf Course extend to a depth of more than 1,000 feet. Later studies suggest that in places the depth ranges up to 9,000 feet.
FATHER CROWLEY VISTA
This scenic point provides panoramic views of the northern end of the Panamint valley in Death Valley National Park. Named after Father John Crowley, Padre of the desert 1891 – 1940. From the snowy heights of the Sierras beyond the deep shadows of Death Valley beloved and trusted by people of all faiths he led them toward life’s wider horizons.
FURNACE CREEK VISITOR CENTER
The most popular hike in all of Death Valley National Park is the hike through Golden Canyon. At a little over 3 miles round trip, depending on where you stop, this hike gives you a great view of the unique beauty Death Valley has to offer. It has gaping canyons, massive boulders, waves of plantless terrain and even a large red rock called the Red Cathedral at the end. It is also the site where different parts of the original Star Wars movies from George Lucas were filmed.
HARMONY BORAX MINES
Harmony Borax Works was the central feature in the opening of Death Valley and the subsequent popularity of the Furnace Creek area.
After borax was found near Furnace Creek Ranch (then called Greenland) in 1881, William T. Coleman built the Harmony plant and began to process ore in late 1883 or early 1884. When in full operation, the Harmony Borax Works employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax daily. During the summer months, when the weather was so hot that processing water would not cool enough to permit the suspended borax to crystallize, Coleman moved his work force to the Amargosa Borax Plant near present day Tecopa, California.
Getting the finished product to market from the heart of Death Valley was a difficult task, and an efficient method had to be devised. The Harmony operation became famous through the use of large mule teams and double wagons which hauled borax the long overland route to Mojave.The romantic image of the “20-mule team” persists to this day and has become the symbol of the borax industry in this country.
The Harmony plant went out of operation in 1888, after only five years of production, when Coleman’s financial empire collapsed.
Point of interest located in Death Valley National Park, at the intersection of Daylight Pass Road and Beatty Road. This is one of the Death Valley Park entrances (from the east). Visitors are met with a wonderful vista overlooking Stovepipe Wells and the Furnace Creek Sand Dunes. Most stop to walk the grounds and ponder the first thoughts to have crossed the minds of early settlers and travelers.
Skidoo was one of the last gold mining camps in Death Valley. One of the unique features of the mining operation in Skidoo was the mining of large amounts of gold ore by going into narrow ore veins using large-scale mining efforts. The pipeline to Skidoo is considered to be a marvelous feat of engineering. It crossed from Skidoo over Harrisburg Flats and Wood, Nemo, and Wildrose Canyons to the Telescope Peak area.
The first temporary settlement at Stovepipe Wells came into being when a road between Rhyolite and Skidoo was begun in 1906 to ameliorate the approach to the mine at Skidoo. A collection of tents was erected to serve travelers with food, drink and lodging. In 1925, entrepreneur Bob Eichmann began construction of the hotel at Stovepipe Wells, along with a scenic toll road through Death Valley. This marked the beginning of the transition from mining community to tourist destination.
Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. To the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, the crater has been known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah”, meaning Coyote’s Basket.
They are known as maar volcanoes, created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water. The intense heat flashed the water into steam which expanded until the pressure was released as a tremendous explosion.The western cluster of Maar volcanoes was the first to form, then the southern cluster, followed by Ubehebe—the largest of them all—possibly as recently as 300 years ago.
Cinders from these explosions cover much of the surrounding area. This material is very evident as you drive up the hill to the parking area. Some cinders can even be seen on the dry bed of ancient Lake Rogers on the valley floor north of the craters. The cinders covering most of the area came from Ubehebe and are as much as 150 feet thick at the crater rim, decreasing in depth radially outward from there. The colorful layers in the crater’s eastern wall are fanglomerates through which the explosion occurred. Fanglomerate is an alluvial fan deposit hardened into rock. Sandstone and conglomerate, loosely cemented together by calcite make up this conglomerate and most of the pieces of rock are either volcanic or metamorphic.
WILDROSE CHARCOAL KILNS
The charcoal kilns complex in Wildrose Canyon is among the more remarkable historical-architectural features of Death Valley National Park. These ten beehive shaped masonry structures, about 25 feet high, are believed to be the best known surviving example of such kilns to be found in the western states.
The Wildrose Charcoal Kilns were completed in 1877 by the Modock Consolidated Mining Company to provide a source of fuel suitable for use in two smelters adjacent to their group of lead-silver mines in the Argus Range west of Panamint Valley, about 25 miles distant from the kilns. Although the mines themselves were worked intermittently until about 1900, there is no clear evidence that the charcoal kilns were operational after 1879. Evidently either other fuel sources were located or it was found to be more profitable to ship the raw ore elsewhere for processing. This short life may help to explain the remarkably good condition of these kilns, more than 100 years after their construction.
Associated with the Modock mines were the neighboring towns of Darwin and Lookout, rough towns which out-lived the more famous Panamint City. A trail from Lookout to Wildrose Canyon was constructed. Charcoal was transported to the smelters by jackass pack-trains, though wagons also were probably involved.
Christian Brevoort Zabriskie (1864–1936) was born at Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory. Zabriskie’s life took on new meaning in 1885 when F.M. Smith hired him to supervise several hundred Chinese workers at the Columbus Marsh area of the Pacific Coast Borax Company near Candelaria. He ultimately became vice president and general manager of the company and served in that capacity for thirty-six years until his retirement in 1933. During this time, the Pacific Coast Borax Company had phased out most of its borax operations in the Caldelaria vicinity but had moved on the greater production in the Death Valley area.
Zabriskie Point remains to honor a man who devoted many years of service to the Pacific Coast Borax Company.