Death Valley, SE Calif. and SW Nev., a deep, arid basin, 140 mi (225 km) long, bordered on the W by the Panamint Range and on the E by the Amargosa Range. In summer the valley has recorded some of the world's highest air temperatures (134°F/56.7°C, the world record) and ground temperatures (165°F/74°C). Less than 2 in. (5 cm) of rain falls annually; the small Amargosa River and Furnace Creek disappear into the sands. Salt and alkali flats, unique rock formations, and briny pools are found there. Badwater, in the south central part of Death Valley, is 282 ft (86 m) below sea level, the lowest point in the Americas; Telescope Peak, in the Panamint Range, is 11,049 ft (3,368 m) high. In spite of the harsh environment, a large variety of small animals and desert plants are found in Death Valley; they have attracted much scientific attention. Native Americans of Panamint descent, an offshoot of the Shoshone, are the only group ever to be self-subsisting in the region.
Death Valley was named by gold seekers who undertook to cross this desolate region in 1849 on their way to the California gold fields. The valley yielded gold and silver in the 1850s, and in the 1880s borax was discovered and taken out by mule-drawn wagons. The valley was much publicized by the American adventurer Walter Scott ("Death Valley Scotty"), and it remains a popular tourist attraction. Death Valley National Park, 3,367,628 acres (1,363,412 hectares), a protected region of Death Valley, was established as a national monument in 1933 and designated a national park in 1994. See also National Parks and Monuments (table).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.