Nevada: The land of extremes

Characterised by miles of deep sand dunes, Technicolor rocks and canyons, rare and endemic wildlife, one-of-a-kind evaporative salt elements, and jaw-dropping peaks that rise 11,000 feet above neighbouring valleys, Death Valley National Park in Nevada, USA, is a remarkable landscape alive with unmatched beauty.

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make for a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow, rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers, and lush oases harbour tiny fish and are a refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Its fascinating features stretch a baffling 130 miles long by 12 miles wide. What’s even more astounding is the fact that Death Valley, the largest national park in the Lower 48, covers a staggering 3.4 million acres of barren, mostly unpopulated terrain that is filled with sweeps of desert broken up by towering mountains and rocky ridges. The elevation to the north end sits at 1,000 metres and slopes steadily downward, putting the valley floor below sea level for 70 miles. Looking at a map, visitors will find several Death Valley National Park features listed, including the Funeral Mountains, Hell’s Gate, Starvation Canyon, Dead Man Pass, Golden Canyon, Ubehebe Crater, Mosaic Canyon, Salt Creek, Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Coffin Peak.

Death Valley is also renowned for stunning super bloom of spring wildflower exhibits, but annual wildflowers are the exception, not the rule. When perfect conditions happen, the desert fills with a sea of purple, gold, pink or white wildflowers. A good wildflower year depends on at least three things: spread out rain through the winter and spring, enough warmth from the sun, and light to non-existent harsh desert winds. This seemingly desolate environment is home to over 1,000 species of plants. Fascinatingly, 23 of those species are not found anywhere else, including the Rock Lady and the Eureka Valley evening primrose. While accommodations are limited in Death Valley itself, you’ll find a wide range of great places to eat, drink, rest up.

 

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