What Makes It Special?
Less than a hundred miles from the highest point in the contiguous United States, Death Valley itself is also the lowest point on the continent. This extreme topographic relief creates a place that gets barely two inches of precipitation per year. Temperatures range from well below freezing at night to a scorching 120 degrees mid-afternoon. A place you would think is so inhospitable nothing could exist… and yet life still does. Every living thing has adapted to live here. For example, vegetation here isn’t green but rather white to reflect the heat.
It’s Not A Mirage
And just like the wildlife, right in the center you’ll find Scotty’s Castle. This was the place that sparked my imagination as a kid. Even the tour guide was named “Ranger Graves.” It isn’t a castle or even built by Death Valley Scotty. Rather, it was built by millionaire Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie who were lured here by Scotty’s story of a gold mine (there wasn’t). But even without gold, the warm dry climate helped his health and so Albert Johnson decided to build a sprawling oasis in this harsh environment.
While Albert was the brains and the money of the magnificent Spanish Villa, it was the tales that Scotty (yes, he was a real person) wove that made my mind wander. When people visited Scotty, he’d tell them he was building the home from his gold mine profits. That he had hung a donkey pelt near the stables and when a mule or donkey would be stubborn, he’d walk it over to the pelt and say, “This is what will become of you if you don’t shape up!”
*Note: Due to a historic flood, Scotty’s Castle is closed to the public. To see it, you must take a tour which are offered on Sundays from Mid-December through Mid-April along with Behind the Ropes tour on Saturdays.
Stones That Move By Themselves?
Another unique phenomenon that exists in Death Valley is located on the Racetrack Playa. For decades, scientists were baffled as to the “sailing stones.” On huge flat plains, rocks were moving along the desert ground with no gravitational cause. Though no one had actually seen one move, the trails left behind the stones made it clear that they do. Varying in size and some of them weighing hundreds of pounds! Finally in 2014, using time lapse photography they figured it out. It’s the result of a perfect balance of ice, water, and wind.
It might be the lowest point in North America but there’s plenty more reasons you should visit Death Valley. From rocks that move themselves to a heavy winded storyteller in a desert oasis, this is only the tip of the iceberg of what there is to see in Death Valley.