Death Valley National Park

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Sand dunes and mesquite by QT Luong, the first landscape photographer to capture images in each of the 58 national parks.

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Never mind the heat (although, Death Valley does lay claim to the highest officially recorded temperature on Earth.) It's the geology that captures your mind as you roam this sprawling national park. The sand dunes. The eroded hillsides and carved canyons. The alluvial fans painted scarlet, lemon, orange and purple with wildflowers after wet winters.

Death Valley exhibits one of the most incredible geologic displays not just in North America, but throughout the world. Some, citing Star Wars, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and other Hollywood productions, might even call it otherworldly.

Yet the centerpiece of this landscape is really not a true valley, one created by a river. Rather, it is a nearly 160-mile-long "rift valley" forged by the downward movement of the valley floor that separates two mountain ranges, the Armagosa Range on the east and the Panamint Range on the west.

What is it about the hard salt pan, the shifting sand dunes, and the life-threatening temperatures that lures travelers to Death Valley National Park?

Well, for starters the incredible blooms that can daub the desert landscape come Spring following modestly wet winters with pinks, crimsons, yellows, reds, and blues can be intoxicating. For Europeans, the searing heat of July and August seems to offer an attractive red badge of courage, if you will, for travelers from France, Germany and Italy seem to dominate the crowds that gather here in summer.

Automakers look forward to those hot days so they can test their latest creations to determine if they have the mettle to be sold.

There's much history in Death Valley, as well, from the 49ers who struggled through the valley on their way to the California gold fields and the Chinese workers who mined borax that was hauled by the 20-mule teams, to a desert rat who told tall tales to swindle investors and is remembered today at Scotty's ranch with its palatial mansion.

In a National Park System where we bestow superlatives and recognize iconic parks, Death Valley is in a league of itself. You can find yourself relatively far below sea level in 120-degree heat, or standing in snow atop a 11,049-foot peak that offers a vast panorama of the park. So unusual is this setting, that it even attracted R2D2 and C3PO.

Traveler's choice for: Photography, geology, hiking, history, and, when winter rains fall, wildflowers.

Park History: Death Valley National Park

As extreme as Death Valley's temperatures can get, and as desolate as its landscape appears, it has had residents for thousands of years, stretching back to the ancestors of the Timbisha Shoshone.

Getting Around Death Valley National Park

If all you're intending during your visit to Death Valley National Park is to stay on the main roads, then navigating this huge landscape is easy. If you're thinking of being a little adventurous, with treks to the Racetrack or perhaps the Ibex Dunes, well, things get a little more challenging.

Lodging in Death Valley National Park

Prefer a roof over your head when the sun goes down? Death Valley offers four lodging complexes, with rates that from as little as $79 a night to nearly $500 a night.

Camping in Death Valley National Park

There are 10 front-country campgrounds to choose from at Death Valley National Park, with the Furnace Creek Campground perhaps the most in demand thanks to the nearby swimming pool.

Hiking in Death Valley National Park

Hiking in Death Valley National Park is not for the novice to desertscapes. The landscape is demanding, exacting, and can be deadly. But it also can reveal some wonders.

Wildlife in Death Valley National Park

Despite its inhospitable appearance, Death Valley National Park actually has quite a bit of life in its landscape.

Geology of Death Valley National Park

Though its name reflects the hallmark of this landscape, there is more than a desert to Death Valley National Park. Stand at Badwater, 282 feet below sea level, and you can gaze up to Telescope Peak, which towers overhead at 11,049 feet above sea level.

Traveler's Checklist: Death Valley National Park

To help you get the most out of a visit to this tortuous, unforgiving, blazingly hot, and arid landscape (sense we're trying to send a message with our adjectives?), here is the Traveler's Checklist for touring Death Valley.

Death Valley: Hottest Recorded Place On Earth

How hot can it get at Death Valley? Why, there was a day back in 1913 when it was so hot that "swallows in full flight fell to the earth dead."

A Weekend Well-Lived: Trail Running In Death Valley National Park

You can find trail runners in more than a few national parks these days, and Death Valley National Park, with its wide-open spaces and roads running through tight canyons, is a spectacular draw for those looking for great scenery and solitude on their runs.

By The Numbers: Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the 48-state U.S., is a prodigious generator of interesting statistics. Here is a generous sample.

Resources For Planning A Death Valley National Park Vacation

This is where you can find things such as websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books relating to the park.

Death Valley National Park News

Instagramming Park Vandal Is Just The Latest To Hit The National Parks And Show-Off Their Crimes

A carefree New Yorker who left acrylic calling cards on the landscape of at least 10 national parks is just the latest vandal to "show-off" her work via Social Media channels. Another scofflaw recently entered a guilty plea to illegal behavior in Yosemite National Park that he, too, showcased via Instragram, a form of self-promotion that provided investigators with the clues they needed to land a conviction.

There's An Artist On The Loose Defacing National Parks

A wandering artist with an affinity for using slices of national parks for her palettes, an apparent disregard for the law, and a penchant for documenting her works via social media channels, has drawn the attention of the National Park Service.

Help Out Friends Of Saguaro By Bidding In Their On-Line Auction

Think it'd be nice to spend some time relaxing this winter in Death Valley, or maybe in Sedona, or perhaps in Wyoming right outside Yellowstone National Park? Those destinations could be on your calendar if you're the winning bidder in a fund-raising auction for Friends of Saguaro National Park.

Death Valley National Park Images