Death Valley National Park is a mostly-arid United States National Park located east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Inyo County, California with a small extension and exclave (Devil's Hole) in Nye County, Nevada. The park covers 5,219 mi² (13,518 km²), encompassing Saline Valley, a large part of Panamint Valley, almost all of Death Valley, and parts of several mountain ranges. It is the hottest and driest of the national parks in the United States and contains the second-lowest point in the Western
Hemisphere at Badwater, which is 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. It is also 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. Approximately 95% of the park is designated as wilderness.
Mining was the primary activity in the area before it was protected. The first known non-Native Americans to enter Death Valley did so in the winter of 1849, thinking they would save some time by taking a shortcut to the gold fields of California. They were stuck for weeks and in the process gave the Valley its name even though only one of their group died there. Several short-lived boom towns sprung up during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to exploit minor local bonanzas of gold. The only long-term profitable ore to be mined, however, was borax; a mineral used to make soap and an important industrial compound. 20-Mule Teams were famously used to transport this ore out of the Valley, helping to make it famous and the subject or set of numerous books, radio programs, television series, and movies. Death Valley National Monument was proclaimed in 1933, placing the area under federal protection. In 1994, the monument was redesignated a national park, as well as being substantially expanded to include, for example, Saline and Eureka Valleys.
The natural environment of the area has been profoundly shaped by its geology, which is very long and complex. The oldest rocks are extensively metamorphosed and at least 1700 million 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 Basin and Range landform we see today. Valleys filled with sediment and, during the wet times of ice ages, with lakes, such as Lake Manly.
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