By the Numbers: Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the 48-state U.S., is a prodigious generator of interesting statistics. Here is a generous sample.
Acreage of Death Valley National Park. Death Valley was substantially enlarged in 1994 when it was re-designated National Park. The former National Monument consequently replaced Yellowstone National Park as the largest unit of the National Park System in the 48-state U.S.
Recreational visits in 2010, a 10% increase over 2009. Annual visitation, which peaked at 1,227,583 in 1999, dropped below one million after 2001, and fell to 704,122 in 2007, was expected to top one million again in 2011.
Elevation of Telescope Peak, the park's high point. The change of elevation within the park, measured from Badwater Basin to the summit of Telescope Peak, is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.
2,000 to 3,000
Potentially hazardous mine openings among the park's 6,000 to 10,000 mine features. Death Valley probably has the most abandoned mines of any national park. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were recently used to mitigate over 200 hazardous openings and stabilize the Keane Wonder Mine tramway.
Species of plants identified in the park, including several dozen unique to Death Valley. In addition, there are at least 440 species of animals (including 51 native mammal species), 36 reptile species, 307 bird species, 5 fish species, 3 amphibian species, and a huge variety of insects. Because so many of Death Valley’s animal species are nocturnal and live in isolated habitats, most visitors see few mammals or reptiles.
Springs and ponds in Death Valley National Park. Incongruous as it may seem, the park even has some significant waterfalls, including Darwin Falls, which cascades a good 100 feet to a plunge pool that is full of cool water and surrounded by cottonwoods and willows. The water in nearly all of the Death Valley water bodies originates as precipitation in the higher elevations that soaks into the ground and emerges downslope.
Miles of maintained roads in the park, including more than 300 miles of paved roads and about 300 miles of improved dirt roads. Death Valley also has several hundred miles of unmaintained 4x4 roads. Backcountry roads can deteriorate quickly, and becoming stranded is always a possibility. Consequently, visitors using roads in remote areas should always check for current conditions, carry plenty of water, and be prepared for emergency situations.
Campsites at Sunset Campground, the largest of Death Valley's nine campgrounds. Like the 136-site Furnace Creek Campground , Sunset is nearly 200 feet below sea level. Campers looking for higher, cooler places can try the little campgrounds (6-23 sites) at Wildrose (4,100 ft.), Thorndike (7,400 ft.) or Mahogany Flat (8,200 ft.).
Temperature recorded at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. Death Valley's reputation as the hottest and driest of the national parks is richly deserved. That 134° reading is is the highest temperature ever recorded under standard conditions on the North American continent. Death Valley's ground level temperatures -- the ones recorded where your feet contact the earth -- are seldom below 150 °F degrees in summer and can get as high as 201 °F. Relative humidity can drop below one percent.
Percentage of the park that is federally designated wilderness.
Miles of primitive dirt road that must be traversed to reach Racetrack Playa and view the mysterious moving rocks there. It's a task best undertaken by experienced four-wheel drivers with sturdy, high clearance vehicles. The park map marks the route thusly: "Sharp rock; requires heavy duty tires."
Visitors that can be accommodated on each guided history tour of the main house at Scotty's Castle. These hugely popular 50-minute tours are offered at least once an hour from November through mid-April. Self-guided tours of the main house are prohibited.
Holes golfers play at the park's Furnace Creek Golf Course. At 214 feet below sea level, it is the world's lowest-altitude golf course. Avid golfers love to add this one to their “been there, done that” list.
Length of Artist's Drive, a paved scenic loop accessed from Badwater Road about ten miles south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. The curving one-way road, which meanders through colorful rock formations (best viewed at the Artist’s Palette), is very popular with motorists and cyclists.
Average annual precipitation on the valley floor, which is rendered arid by a location that is inland, downwind from high mountains, and dominated by subsiding air from a subtropical high pressure cell. Heavy downpours that occasionally occur cause hazardous flash floods and sometimes even create a huge shallow lake on the valley floor. Winter and spring rains can yield spectacular wildflower blooms.
Corn growing in the Devil's Cornfield (near Stovepipe Wells), golfers playing the Devil's Golf Course (Badwater vicinity), or doomed souls passing through Hell's Gate (near the Daylight Pass Road/Beatty Cutoff junction). We're not 100% sure about that last one.
Feet below sea level at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Badwater is not, however, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, as claimed on page 26 of the National Park Service's National Parks Index 2009-2011 (aka the "red book"). That distinction belongs to Argentina's San Julian's Great Depression (344 feet below sea level).