Death Valley National Park

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Death Valley National Park Overview

Death Valley National Park gives new meaning to the word extreme. Telescope Peak, the highest peak in the Park and in the Panamint Mountains, rises 11,049 feet above sea level and lies only 15 miles from the lowest point in the United States in the Badwater Basin salt pan, 282 feet below sea level. The highest temperatures in the United States are regularly recorded here, as are winter snows and near-zero nighttime temperatures.

Hemmed in by nine mountain ranges, Death Valley is cut off from rejuvenating rainfall and cooling Pacific winds, making it one of the driest and hottest places in the world. A record high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded there in 1913 (although this was the world record at the time, it has since been exceeded by two degrees Fahrenheit at a weather station in Libya), and a ground temperature of 201 degrees has also been registered—11 degrees shy of the boiling point for water. Death Valley is generally sunny, dry, and clear throughout the year. The winters, November through March, are mild with occasional winter storms, but summers are extremely hot and dry. Summer high temperatures commonly run above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

The park's size is no less extreme. It sprawls across 3.4 million acres, making Death Valley the largest national park in the contiguous United States, almost five times larger than its glamorous California neighbor, Yosemite. Good news for nature lovers: All but a tiny fraction of that expanse is federal wilderness, which preserves a Connecticut-size chunk of unique terrain for its rugged animal inhabitants and the brave and adventurous visitor.

Bag Telescope Peak
Since extreme summer temperatures make hiking difficult at lower elevations, smart hikers take to the hills. Try the high-elevation hike to Telescope Peak, which begins at 8,133 feet and crests at 11,049 feet. You'll navigate pinyon and limber pine forests and ancient bristlecone pines near the summit. Hiking boots and minimal equipment are recommended. Plan for a six- to nine-hour round-trip. Other day hikes to investigate: Titanothere Canyon, Jayhawker Canyon, Bighorn Gorge, Wildrose Peak.

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Camp amid Moving Mountains
Centrally located in the park, Stovepipe Wells is home to the most photographed sand dunes in the world and is within hiking distance of Keane Wonder Mine and Mill. You'll also be a quick drive from two must-see ghost towns: Leadfield, California, and Rhyolite, Nevada.

The nearby campground has 200 sites and is open from October to April.

Test Your Mettle by Pedal
Aguereberry Point, high in the Panamint Mountains, delivers a knock-your-socks-off panorama of all of Death Valley. Furnace Creek and Devil's Golf course are framed by the snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas behind them. You can get there on mountain bike via a 13-mile loop that begins roughly 20 miles south of Stovepipe Wells. The ascent is sharp and steep, and the descent calls for good bike-handling skills. Except for the occasional "washboard," the road is in good shape.

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Drive Scenic Butte Valley
Death Valley's more than 350 miles of unpaved roads gain access to wilderness hiking, camping, scenery, and historical sites. To negotiate the roughest roads, you'll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but most byways require nothing more than a sturdy car with high clearance. The following picturesque car trips can take you into no-man's land and beyond... and with AC. If you have a 4x4, drive the 21 miles to Butte Valley via Warm Springs. If not, then try the ten-mile drive to Johnson Canyon or the trail to Racetrack/Teakettle Junction.

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