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Why Death Valley is a Bucket List Essential

It's true Death Valley has its extreme seasons. But for several months each year the lowest basin in North America showcases a glorious, unique global landscape, a not-to-be-missed destination. These are some reasons not to miss it.
03/15/2016 10:32am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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10 Reasons Not to Miss Death Valley

Forget those stereotypes of a haggard straggler crawling across the desert thirsting for water. It's true Death Valley has its extreme seasons, during the summer temperatures hover around 120 degrees. But for several months each year the lowest basin in North America showcases a glorious, unique global landscape, a not-to-be-missed destination. These are some reasons not to miss it.

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View of Death Valley

1. You will seen nowhere-else-on-earth vistas

Formed by sections of the earth's crust pulling away from each other, and augmented by erosion and evaporation, the basin called Death Valley stretches over a hundred miles north and south. The vista from Dante's View shows how the basin clearly lies between the mountains on either side. Technically it is not a valley, since valleys are formed by flowing water. The park is one of several in northwest America's Great Basin region which resulted from movement in the earth's crust.

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Death Valley from Dante's View stretches between mountain ranges 110 miles north and south

2. You can step on the lowest spot in North America

Named Badwater, because a pioneer's mule rejected the water's salty residue, the shimmering white bed of what two to four thousand years ago was formerly 30-foot deep Lake Manley now is coated with salt crystals and measures 282 feet below sea level, the lowest spot in North America.

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Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America

3. You can see more colors of "dirt" than you ever imagined

Throughout the park the landscape varies from shades of brown and black to tans and taupes and more. Hills in various hues -- some almost pink and green -- are showcased in the Artist's Drive Scenic Loop.

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Earth's palette of colors in hills along Artist's Drive

4. You can preempt a trip to the moon or Mars

The desolate dunes and basalt rocks mimic the landscape of outer space. Mars explorer devices have been tested on the barren flats and parts of "Star Wars" were filmed in its surreal locations.

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The hills evoke extraterrestrial landscapes

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Moonscape hills

5. You can trace wildlife and eons of history

From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, rangers lead instructive nature hikes through the park. In the sand dunes there are tracks of beetles, kangaroo rats, and coyotes. Hiking through the canyons, guides point out traces of fossils and prehistoric shorelines and waves.

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A ranger leads a tour through Golden Canyon

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Beetle tracks left behind in the sand of the Mesquite Flat Dunes

6. You can retrace "Twenty-Mule Train" footsteps

Borax, the powdery white substance mined in the valley for household cleaning purposes, had to be hauled to rail lines for processing. For years, teams of 20 mules (actually 18 mules and 2 horses) hauled ten-ton wagons out through the valley It took 30 days to cover the 165 miles round trip. Remnants of the mining operation are on display in the remains of the Harmony Borax Works and the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek.

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Remaining structures at the Harmony Borax Works

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20-mule train wagons at the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail

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Pioneer and mining artifacts are displayed in the Borax Museum

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20-mule team exhibit in the Borax Museum

7. You can relax in an oasis

While there are 800 miles of roads within the 3.4 million acres of the park, development is strictly limited. Aside from campsites, there are three "oasis" sites with shops and hotel accommodations: Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resorts, Stovepipe Wells Village, and Panamint Springs Resort. At Furnace Creek you can ride horses, play bocce and tennis, picnic in the date grove, and swim in pools heated by natural hot springs.

At Furnace Creek Ranch, the Forty-Niner Cafe serves a famous burger seasoned with "Dante" sauce, 1000 dressing seasoned with chili powder and paprika. Nearby the original Timbisha Shoshone original inhabitants serve frothy smoothies at a snack bar on their homeland.

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Furnace Creek is an oasis in the desert

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A natural hot spring heats the swimming pool

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Date palms grow in Furnace Creek

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The acclaimed burger with Dante sauce is served at the Forty-Niner Cafe.

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Stovepipe Wells has a store and rooms to rent

8. You can score your all-time lowest game of golf
Despite your handicap, no matter how many strokes you hit, at 214 feet below sea level, your score on the Furnace Creek golf links is guaranteed to be the "lowest" you ever record.

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Furnace Creek's golf course guarantees a "low" score

9. You might see the desert in bloom
In early spring, February to April, you may join the crowds who flock to see the fields of yellow, white, lavender blooms that result from the annual few inches of rain.

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Spring can bring an abundance of wildflowers

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Wildflowers grow beneath the multi-colored hills

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Desert Gold blossoms

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Desert Gold and Notch-Leaf thrive in the harsh conditions

10. You can brag National Park one-upsmanship
This year is 100th-anniversary of the National Park Service and you can commemorate the Centennial by visiting the largest national park in the contiguous United States