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Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a mostly arid[?] national park in the United States. Part of the basin and range it is located east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range[?] in California and extends somewhat into Nevada. Within the park there is the greatest dryland topographic relief in the contiguous United States: Death Valley's floor is at 282 feet below sea level, while Mount Whitney rises to 14,490 feet only 85 miles away.

Death Valley National Monument was created in 1933. In 1994, the Monument was promoted to the status of National Park, as well as being substantially expanded. In addition to the main body of the park, there is a small portion, called Devil's Hole[?] located farther east in Nevada, near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Preserve[?].

Within the park there are two major valleys; Death Valley and Panamint Valley - both of which where formed within the last few million years. Death Valley is five mountain ranges removed from the Pacific Ocean so due the rainshadow effect[?] the originally water-laden air mass arrive in Death Valley in a fairy dry state.

The floor of Death Valley is rich in minerals, such as borax. For many years, a mining and smelting company operated here, producing borax for use in soap. The end product was shipped out of the valley in wagons pulled by teams of 18 mules and 2 horses each, hence the brand name 20-Mule Team.

Bighorn sheep[?] live in and around the park. They are a rare species of mountain sheep[?] that exist in isolated bands in the Sierra and in Death Valley. These are highly adaptable animals and can eat almost any plant. They have no known predators, but humans and borros[?] compete for habitat.

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Geology The park has a diverse geologic history. Since its formation, the area that comprises the park has experienced at least four major periods of extensive volcanism, three or four periods of major sedimentation[?], several intervals of major tectonic deformation and there has also been at least two periods of glaciation.

Death and Panamint valleys both follow the general trend of basin and range topography with one modification: there are parallel strike-slip faults[?] that perpendicularly bound the central extent of Death Valley. The result of this shearing action is additional extension in the central part of Death Valley which causes a slight widening and additional subsidence there.

Also in many places the mountain ranges are actively uplifting. In Death Valley both the Panamints and especially the Black Mountains are uplifting. The uplift on the Black Mountains is so fast that the alluvial fans there are relatively small and steep compared to the huge alluvial fans coming from valley washes off of the Paramount Mountains. In many places so-called "wine glass canyons" are formed as a result. This type of canyon results from the relatively fast uplift on this mountain range which doesn't allow the canyons cut into the range time enough to form a classic v-shape all the way down to the stream bed. Instead a v-shape grading down to a slot canyon is the result along with a relatively small and steep alluvial fan for the stream sediments to collect on. These particular features form what looks like a [[wine glass]] from a distance.

Further complicating this picture is the fact that Death Valley is also twisting which forms lateral strike-slip faults[?] and this is a major reason why Badwater Basin is so low.


Lake Manly

Many basin and range valley floors are filled-in with lake sediments but since extensional forces are constantly at work the valley floor often stays low relative to the adjacent mountain ranges (subsidence of the graben helps to cancel the effects of deposition). Death Valley is no exception and in fact 10,500 years ago there was a large lake that covered much of the valley floor.

Geologists call all the manifestations of this body of water Lake Manly[?] and at its height during the Great Ice Age[?] 15,000 years ago water from three rivers and many streams fed this lake forming a water body 500-600 feet deep, about 8-10 miles wide and 100 miles long. But the saltpans[?] seen on the valley floor are from the 30 feet deep Recent Lake which dried-up only a few thousand years ago.

Shoreline Butte has easy to see weak shorelines on it called strandlines that were formed by wave action from Lake Many. These features were created by different stands of the lake - an ancient lake that never had an outlet and therefore its depth would often change with time and slight changes in climate. The conditions under which this lake existed are called 'pluvial[?]' by geologists instead of glacial because glaciers did not directly touch Death Valley - but the meltwater from the glaciers and the cooler and wetter temperatures of the time did effect the valley.

Places of Interest in Death Valley National Park

Artists Palette

Artist's Palette is on the face of the Black Mountains and is noted for having various colors of rock. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (red, pink and yellow is from iron salts[?], green is from decomposing mica, and manganese produces the purple).


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Picture of saucer-shapped mud/salt formations on the Badwater, Death Valley[?] plain. The hexagonal saucers are approximately 2 - 2.5 metres in diameter which are part of larger-scale features that are also hexagonally-shaped and can be seen from Dante's View nearly 6000 feet above. These saucers are formed after the salty pan begins to dry and the salt crystals expand. On the smooth, wet part of the saltpan there is a weather station which is where the highest temperature in North America was recorded (134 ° F). This is also the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level). This pan was created by the drying-up of Recent Lake 3000 years ago.

Charcoal Kilns

We then stopped at Charcoal Kilns which was built in 1867 and were used to reduce Pinion Pine[?] and Juniper trees to charcoal in a process of slow burning in low oxygen. This fuel was then transported to mines in Death Valley to feed smelting and ore extraction operations. The kilns were abandoned three years after they were built but were restored in 1971 by Navajo Indians from Arizona.

Pinion Pine and Juniper trees dominate the landscape here with bushes of Mormon Tea[?] in between.

Dante's View

From Dante's View one can see the central part of Death Valley from a vantage point 5,500 feet above sea level. From here Badwater Basin[?] can be seen, which contains the lowest dry point in North America (282 feet below sea level). Telescope Peak[?] can also be seen from here which is 11,000 feet above sea level.

The mountain that Dante's View is on is part of the Black Mountains[?] which along with the parallel Panamint Mountains[?] across the valley form what geologists call a horst[?] and the valley that is called a graben[?].

These structures are created when the surface of the earth is under extensional, or a pulling force. The crust responds to this force by sending a large and long roughly v-shaped block of crust down which forms the bedrock of the valley floor (see basin and range).

Devil's Golt Course

The Devil's Golf Course is an area of salty mud that forms upturned sharp-edged crags that one person long ago thought creates an uneven and hellish surface that is suitable only for the devil to golf.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Sand Dunes are at the northern end of the valley floor and due to their easy access from the road have been used to film sand dune[?] scenes for several movies including films in the Star Wars series. The largest dune is called Star Dune and is relatively stable and stationary because it is at a point where the various winds that shape the dunes converge. The depth of the sand at its crest is 130-140 feet but this is small compared to other dunes in the area that have sand depths of up to 600-700 feet deep. Star Dune is shaped like a starfish and is named due to this.

In between many of the dunes are stands of creosotebush[?] and some mesquite[?] on the sand and on dried mud, which used to cover this part of the valley before the dunes intruded (mesquite was the dominant plant here before the sand dunes but creosote does much better in the sand dune conditions).

Mesquite Springs

Mesquite Springs is located in the northernmost part of Death Valley. This part of the valley has numerous cotton top cactus[?], blister beetles[?] and cholla cactus[?]. On the alluvial fan above the springs there are 2-3 thousand year old petroglyphs[?] from the extinct Mesquite Springs culture.

The petroglyphs here are made possible because many of the rocks in these arid conditions have desert varnish on them. This particular form of desert varnish takes 10,000 years to make 1/100th of an inch of varnish and is deposited by a certain type of bacteria that collects the iron, manganese and clay needed to make the varnish.

Also, since varnish is created at a predictable rate, it is possible to date petroglyphs based on the amount of re-varnishing that has taken place since the marks were made. Varnish does not normally form on carbonate rocks because their surfaces weather too easily.

In a wash near some of the petroglyphs there is a fault scarp[?] that exposes some fanglomerate which is a type of sedimentary rock which looks like concrete with large rocks intermixed. In fact it is lithified alluvial sediment.

Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon is a canyon in the north western mountainface of the valley which is named after a stream-derived breccia sediment with angular blocks of dolomite in a pebbly matrix. This canyon was formed through a process of cut and fill[?] which included periodic erosive floods followed by long periods of deposition and uplift. But due to the uplift when the next flood hit the area it would deeply cut the streambed which forms stair step-shaped banks.

The dominant rock-type here is dolomite which is a type of carbonate rock that formed in a warm shallow sea that covered the area of Death Valley 750 million years ago. This particular formation is called the Noonday Dolomite[?] and has been tilted from uplift.

Racetrack Playa

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The rocks on the Racetrack Playa[?] mysteriously move across the sand, eventually falling off of a cliff. They have never been seen or filmed in motion. One hypothesis claims that on some nights, rain makes the sand slippery, and strong winds push the rocks across it.

Salt Creek

Much of Salt Creek is usually dry at the surface and covered by a bright layer of salt which was created by many flooding and subsequent evaporation of water that periodically flows at the surface. Over time the small amount of solutes in the water accumulate to form this linear salt pan. Another part of salt creek runs with brackish water year-round. It is here that the last survivor of Lake Manly resides; the Death Valley pupfish.

Shoreline Butte

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Picture of Shoreline Butte[?] in Death Valley. This desert butte was once an island in a lake that filled Death Valley several times during the last ice age and probably in ice ages before that. Notice the different horizontal linear features that are thought to be ancient shorelines from this lake which scientists call Lake Manly.

Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon which is a canyon cut into Precambrian seabed[?] sediments composed mostly of carbonate rock (especially limestone). These sediments have been upturned, upfolded (forming anticlines[?]), downfolded (forming synclines[?]) and folded back onto itself (forming recombent folds[?]).

Native Americans who wrote petroglyphs on some of the rock faces - especially at springs or other points of interest.

Leadfield is a ghost town near Titus Canyon where in the 1920s prospectors mined for ore after hearing exaggerated claims that ore would be easy to find and the living conditions in the area would be easy to endure.

At one of the bends in the canyon mega breccia can be seen and several different types of flowers including the sacred detura[?] inhabit the area.

Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater that is 777 feet deep and 6-7 thousand years old (dated from Native American artifacts in the area). "Ubehebe" is a Native American word meaning "Big basket in the rock." The crater was formed when magma migrated close to the surface and the heat of the magma flashed groundwater into steam. The resulting large steam explosion is called a phreatic[?] eruption by geologists and was just one in series of similar explosions in the immediate area.

As can be seen in the picture there is a series of gray layers near the rim of the crater and lighter-colored sediments further down. The gray layers are from the phreatic eruptions that have recently occurred in this area but the lighter-colored rock is derived from ocean sediment. There is also a difference in color between these seabed sediments: On the left these sediments are yellowish in hue while on the right they are orange. The reason is due to a fault that separates the two different sedimentary units; over time movement along this fault has resulted in the abutment of these two different sedimentary units.

Winds at the rim of the crater are very strong and often gust above 50 MPH.

Ventifact Ridge

Ventifact Ridge is a ridge raising in Death Valley that is part of a basaltic lava flow and the rocks on its surface are famous for being shaped by wind erosion[?] and are called ventifacts.

Winds on this ridge are concentrated and compressed at the top of the hill and are very fast as a result. These strong winds pick-up dust and sand, which literally sand-blasts their surfaces.

Other places in the park

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