Death Valley National Park is located in California and Nevada east of the Sierra Nevada, occupying an interface zone between the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts. 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 95% of the park is a designated wilderness area. It is the hottest and driest of the national parks in the United States. The second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere is in Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet 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 of 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.
Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America because of its lack of surface water and its low relief. It is so frequently the hottest spot in the United States that many tabulations of the highest daily temperatures in the country omit Death Valley as a matter of course. On July 10, 1913, a record 134 °F was measured at the Weather Bureau's observation station at Greenland Ranch (now the site for the Furnace Creek Inn), the highest temperature ever recorded in the world. Daily summer temperatures of 120 °F or greater are common, as well as below freezing nightly temperatures in the winter. July is the hottest month, with an average high of 115 °F and an average low of 88 °F. December is the coldest month, with an average high of 65 °F and an average low of 39 °F. The record low is 15 °F.
The high temp today (5/15/2015) was 75 °F, perfect!