Quirky science found in California’s Death Valley National Park

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif., January 30, 2013 – Death Valley is famous for being the hottest place on Earth. There are several other factors, however, that are so mysterious, fascinating and just plain quirky that people leave the valley – which is a misnomer – shaking their heads at what they discovered.

Here are some of those interesting things about Death Valley:

Death Valley is really not a valley.
It is actually a “graben” which is a German word describing the result of the stresses created by the shifting of tectonic plates. Valleys are created by water flow and erosion. “Death Graben” doesn’t exactly have a nice ring to it, does it?

Rocks move, but no one sees it happen.
The Playa Racetrack is known for large rocks that move across an old lake bed. Since there is no documentation/video clips that show them actually moving how can you tell? They leave tracks behind them that show the routes they take. The consensus is that when it rains the bed becomes slippery enough that a stiff wind will move the rocks.

It is the hottest place on Earth.
The highest official temperature ever recorded was 134°F (57°C) at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. The greatest number of consecutive days with a maximum temperature of 100° F or above was 154 days in the summer of 2001. Yes, it is a dry heat, but that is still hot.

Things actually grow in Death Valley National Park…
In fact, more than 1,000 plant species exist in Death Valley National Park. Because the park covers some 3.3 million acres with elevations ranging from 282 feet below to 11,049 above sea level, there is plenty of suitable habitat for plant life as well as 51 species of native mammals, 307 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, three species of amphibians and five species and one subspecies of native fishes.

…Including Flowers
Even though the average annual rainfall in the 3.3-million-acre park is a meager 1.9 inches, desert wildflowers have been known to put on quite the show. When enough rain does fall – in the fall – a good spring bloom will follow. Usually, starting between mid-February and early March, the first desert gold begins to bloom and is joined by flowers with such evocative names as desert star, evening primrose, verbena and poppy. By late April, the Panamint Mountains and other higher climes welcome paintbrush, lupine and panamint daisies. Even the spiny cacti and Joshua trees may blossom. The Mojave wild rose, hardy rabbitbrush and delicate mariposa lilies join the show. The park takes on the aspect of a Monet painting, in shades of gold, pink, purple, orange and white.

Don’t Even Think About Trying to Catch These Fish
The Desert Pupfish is a tiny fish that grows to a full average length of only 2½ inches. Although their average life span is six to nine months, some survive more than one year. The Death Valley pupfish is a species of fish that is the last known survivor of what is thought to have been a large ecosystem of fish species that lived in Lake Manly, which dried up at the end of the last ice age leaving the present day Death Valley. The pupfish has adapted to the shallow, hot saline water found in the park.

It’s a pretty good place to install solar power…
In 2008 Furnace Creek owner and operator Xanterra Parks & Resorts installed a five-acre, one megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Since the system went active it has generated more than one-third of the total annual electricity needs of Xanterra’s Death Valley operations, including the historic Inn at Furnace Creek , Ranch at Furnace Creek , Furnace Creek Golf Course, employee offices and housing.

…and to test the sun’s effects on automobiles
Regular visitors to Death Valley include several domestic and international automobile manufacturers looking to determine the effects of extreme sun and heat on vehicle’s mechanical components, cooling systems and paint. If the cars stand up to Death Valley in the summer, that’s a good sign.

***

The Furnace Creek Resort has been welcoming guests since the 1930s. The AAA Four-Diamond-rated Inn at Furnace Creek is open from mid-October through mid-May. It features 66 rooms, including two suites with a full array of amenities, fine dining, tennis courts and a spring-fed pool. Open year-round, the Ranch at Furnace Creek is situated adjacent to the golf course and features 224 rooms in a casual setting, general store, spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, horseback riding and the Borax Museum.