10 Otherworldly Facts About Death Valley National Park, the Hottest Place on Earth

Zabriskie Point at dawn, California, USA
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It’s not hard to guess how Death Valley National Park got its name. A scorching desert with some of the hottest and driest conditions in the world, Death Valley’s landscape is nothing short of challenging when it comes to the survival of its flora and fauna. As a result, this arid park is home to a unique variety of wildlife armed with adaptations to help them thrive in the harsh environment, along with a few, more mysterious features as well.

From singing sand dunes to surprising superblooms, these 10 dramatic facts about Death Valley National Park will inspire you to visit this otherworldly landscape.

Death Valley National Park Is the Largest National Park in the Lower 48 States

The national park was established in 1994, boasting the largest park in the lower 48 states at an impressive 3.4 million acres in size.

Almost 1,000 miles of road are paved to help get visitors between locations within the landscape, while a whopping 93% (or 3,190,451 acres) is protected as official wilderness areas, making it the largest area of designated national park wilderness in the country outside of Alaska.

It’s the Lowest Point in North America

Part of what gives Death Valley National Park such a breathtaking landscape comes from its location below sea level (Badwater Basin, specifically, rests at 282 below sea level).

Parts of Death Valley National Park are covered with a thick layer of salt—which many visitors mistake for snow—on the valley floor due to the rain and minerals from dissolved rocks that drain from higher elevations.

There Is a Surprising Number of Wildflowers

Death Valley Superbloom
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Despite the valley’s “deathly” reputation, the annual spring months can give way to a lively display of vibrantly colored wildflowers. Some years are more abundant than others, but when the weather conditions are right, visitors can experience an explosion of pinks, purples, golds, and whites covering the park’s hillsides.

Superblooms are rare, though they attract a large number of spectators and animal pollinators.

What Is a Superbloom?

A superbloom is a desert phenomenon that happens when, after unusually heavy winter rains, dormant wildflower seeds sprout all at the same time, creating a thick proliferation of flowery vegetation.

Death Valley Is the Hottest Place on Earth

Furnace Creek in Death Valley is famous for recording some of the world’s highest air temperatures, including 130 degrees Fahrenheit in 2021. Before that, temperatures reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit in the year 1913, though researchers have speculated that the number may not have been recorded reliably.

As for rainfall, Death Valley sees less than 2 inches of rain per year, much less than other deserted landscapes. Although the valley itself is long and narrow, it is walled by high, steep mountain ranges that radiate and trap heat in the valley floor.

Scientists Recently Cracked the Mystery of Death Valley’s Self-Moving Stones

Sailing Stones of Death Valley
Copyright Matt Kazmierski / Getty Images

A section of the park known as Racetrack Playa was formerly the site of a world-renowned geological mystery. The bottom of this dry lakebed is filled with hundreds of rocks (some weighing up to 700 pounds) that appear to move on their own, leaving trails on the ground as far as 1,500 feet long.

The source of this phenomenon went unsolved until 2014, when researchers discovered that the playa floods and freezes during cold winter nights, creating a thin layer of ice that breaks and drives the rocks forward across the surface before sunrise.

The Sand Dunes Sing

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images 

Death Valley’s moving rocks aren’t the only mysterious component of the park. Among the small portion of sand dunes, namely the easily accessible Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the towering Eureka Sand Dunes, it’s possible to hear the park’s famous singing sand.

What makes it sing? When the sand slides down the dune’s steep slopes, the friction between sand grains creates a deep tone similar to a pipe organ or an airplane. Few places on Earth can claim singing sand dunes with louder volumes.

There Are Hundreds of Species of Birds

Roadrunner near a campsite in Death Valley
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During the spring and fall, hundreds of different species of birds make their way through the desert areas of Death Valley National Park to migrate. One bird, however, can be spotted in the park nearly year-round.

The roadrunner is one of Death Valley’s most common wildlife species, mainly because its high body temperature allows it to adapt to the hotter temperatures during the high heat of the day.

Humans Lived in Death Valley for Centuries

The Timbisha Shoshone Native American tribe lived in what is now Death Valley National Park for centuries before the first European explorers entered the valley. By following the seasonal migration of wildlife, they successfully hunted and harvested across the valley’s diverse environment for generations.

Even today, some 300 people live inside the park year-round, mainly employees of the national park service, in the valley’s three main communities of Cow Creek, Timbisha Shoshone Village, and Stovepipe Wells.

Its Landscapes Are Featured in Famous Hollywood Films

Artists Palette in Death Valley NP
Mimi Ditchie Photography / Getty Images

The first visit to Death Valley National Park may invoke an unexpected sense of nostalgia for certain travelers, especially fans of Star Wars, the Twilight Zone, and Tarzan. In fact, more than 100 TV shows and movies have been filmed in Death Valley thanks to its stunning scenery and otherworldly landscape.

Six Species of Fish Have Evolved to Survive There

Believe it or not, there are six species of fish that have adapted to survive Death Valley’s rough conditions.

The endangered Devils Hole pupfish is able to survive in the salty waters of Devils Hole, where temperatures average 93 degrees Fahrenheit and oxygen levels are in the lethal ranges for most fish. As one of the world’s rarest fish, Devils Hole pupfish numbered just 35 individuals in April 2013.