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Death Valley, the land of Extremes

June 10, 2018

If you want to go to the extremes of the Earth, don’t go to Death Valley.  I imagine Everest, Antarctica and Marianas Trench with my unlimited budget.  But if you’re on a budget or stuck in a truck with 2 bored boys in the unknowns of America, then this place is for you!

 

Nowhere else in North America can you find a place this extreme.  Lowest, driest and hottest.  I’m used to finding signs that say don’t touch this or don’t go there but here in Death Valley most of the signs just say don’t die!  This is for good reason!  The water you find here is brackish, too salty to drink and the daytime temperatures have been recorded at 56.7 °C.  It’s a miracle that anything survives here, but they do!  That makes for some great science about plant and animal adaptations, geology and climate.

 

Badwater Basin in Death Valley is the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level.  While the Salton sea is close and getting lower as the water drops, so too is Death Valley dropping.  The valley is part of a mountain formation known as a graben.  A block of rock that sinks as the mountains on either side move further apart.  I’ve talked about this in science 7, but never really had a good example before.  Can’t wait to share this next year!

 

If these geography facts aren’t interesting, then how about an average yearly rainfall of 2.36 inches.   Now compare that to the driest location in Canada, Osoyoos, BC.  Here the yearly average is 12.76 inches.  This place in extraordinarily dry. If these facts about the water aren’t crazy enough for you, then imagine the temperature at 56.7 °C.  This in the hottest air temperature ever recorded on Earth.  Now imagine 93.9 °C, that was the measured ground temperature in July, 1972, the hottest ground temperature ever recorded on Earth!  I can’t even comprehend that kind of heat.  Now minus 93.9 °C, for some reason I can imagine that one.  Must be a Canadian thing.

 

While these extremes seemed impossible, finding life thriving here was even harder to imagine. We marveled at what we saw, from the hardy devil’s cornfield to the salt tolerant pup fish.  The arrowweed plant survives the harsh erosion by growing in clumps that resemble corn shocks, hence the name.  Pup fish in Death Valley are found in two isolated locations and survive water that is 4 times saltier than the sea and as warm as 47 °C.  While I found these adaptations amazing, the boys enjoyed the fish reactions to shadows in the water that they made with their hands. 

From a distance you could mistake this place as barren and monotone, but every turn brought something interesting and unique for us to explore.  I found myself gaping at the view every evening as the sun set.  Countless hues of red sprinkled across the landscape that appeared to vary at every turn as we returned to camp. After 3 days of exploring I crave more time, but we need to start heading East if we want to get home by our deadline.  Like many places so far, I can’t wait to come back.

 

 

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