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Death Valley

False-color radar image of Death Valley from the Space Shuttle
False-color radar image of Death Valley from the Space Shuttle

Death Valley is a deep arid basin in the northern Mojave Desert of southern California in the United States, extending for approximately 140 mi (225 km) along the California-Nevada border approximatley 100 mi (160 km) west of Las Vegas. Famous for its brutal extremes of heat, the valley floor at Badwater Basin is the location of the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The entire valley is located within Death Valley National Park.

The valley is located southeast of the Sierra Nevada range in the Great Basin. It is bounded on the east by the Grapevine Mountains , Funeral Mountains, and Amargosa Range . It is bounded on the west by the Cottonwood Mountains and the Panamint Range. The geological configuration is considered one of the best examples of the Basin and Range configuration.

The valley radiates extreme amounts of heat, allowing for temperatures that are among the hottest on earth. The hottest temperature recorded in the U.S., and the second hottest in the world, was 134F (56.6C) at Greenland Ranch near the valley on July 10, 1913. The valley receives less than 2 in (5.1 cm) of rain annually. The Amargosa River and Furnace Creek flow through the valley, disappearing into the sands of the valley floor.

While there is very little rain in Death Valley, the valley is prone to flooding during heavy rains, because the soil is unable to absorb the bulk of the water. The runoff can produce dangerous flash floods. In August 2004 such flooding occurred, causing two deaths and shutting down the national park.

During the late Pleistocene, the valley was indundated by prehistoric Lake Manly. The valley received its name in 1849 during the California gold rush by emigrants who sought to cross the valley on their way to the gold fields. During the 1850s, gold and silver were extracted in the valley. In the 1880s borax was discovered and extracted by mule-drawn wagons.

For a detailed examination of the geology and other features of the valley, see Death Valley National Park

Last updated: 11-07-2004 05:22:32