Death Valley

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For other names using Death Valley, see the Death Valley disambiguation page.
The Panamint Range, Death Valley, and the Black Mountains as seen from the Space Shuttle (NASA image)
The Panamint Range, Death Valley, and the Black Mountains as seen from the Space Shuttle (NASA image)

Death Valley is a valley located in east-central California southeast of the Sierra Nevada range in the Great Basin, comprising much of Death Valley National Park. 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.



Death Valley is the lowest point in the western hemisphere, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. Generally, the lower the altitude of a place, the higher the temperatures tend to be. 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 134 °F (56.7 °C) at Greenland Ranch near the valley on July 10, 1913. The highest average high temperature in July is 116 °F (47 °C) with temperatures of 120 °F (49 °C) or higher being very common. The valley receives less than 2 in (50 mm) 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 inundated 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.

Native population

Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe, who have inhabited the valley for at least the past 1000 years. Some families still live in the valley at Indian Village. The name of the valley, tümpisa, means 'rock paint' and refers to the valley as a source of red ochre paint. Another village in the valley was located in Grapevine Canyon near the present site of Scotty's Castle. It was called maahunu, the meaning of which is uncertain although hunu means 'canyon'. See Timbisha Language.

See also

For an extensive overview of the history, ecology, and points of interest in the valley and surrounding area, see Death Valley National Park. For a detailed examination of the geology and other features of the valley, see Geology of the Death Valley Area.


  • U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 494, Hunt, C.B., and Mabey, D.R., 1966, General geology of Death Valley, California (adapted public domain table)[1]

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