A Couple Of Desert National Parks (Part Two)
January 11, 2014

A Couple Of Desert National Parks (Part Two)

You can read part one here.

Though we did not make it to Death Valley National Park, we researched it extensively. We quite literally decided on Joshua Tree National Park at the cusp, the point where we would either turn east or continue south. Death Valley provides much that interests visitors, so let’s take a look.

Most people have heard that in the heat of summer, when Death Valley is literally too hot to even drive in, one can fry an egg on the ground. As the national park that boasts the hottest, driest, and lowest, this kind of extreme is not all that exaggerated. The homepage for Death Valley National Park describes, “In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.”

I think that says it all about the extremes that make up this national park. And frankly, it is the extremes that make me want to visit it, to see the park in all its extremes: hottest, driest, lowest.

But the park is more than just extremes. People come to camp, hike, bird watch, bike, and backpack just the same as any other national park. With over 3 million acres, it has “an amazing variety of terrain, historic sites, plants, and animals.”

What are some of those animals? Well, here is a list:

  • Inyo Mountains slender salamander
  • Frog varieties
  • Toad varieties
  • Hundreds of Birds (Death Valley is touted as “one of the most impressive ornithological biomes in the National Park ecosystem.” Check out this bird list.)
  • Pupfish varieties
  • Mosquito fish
  • Bat varieties
  • Rodent varieties: gophers, mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits
  • Porcupine
  • Coyote
  • Fox varieties
  • Badger
  • Skunk
  • Mountain lion
  • Bobcat
  • Burro
  • Horse
  • Mule deer
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Desert tortoise
  • Gecko
  • Lizard varieties
  • Skink varieties
  • Snake varieties
  • Butterfly varieties

As abundant as the animals of Death Valley are, the plant life is just as minimal. In fact, it basically consists of cacti and desert succulents and wildflowers. But doesn’t that make sense since the summer temperatures can run above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (about 49 Celcius)? Plus, it is extremely dry in the summer, so plants would not have the water they would need to survive. I am shocked that anything has what it needs to survive in this ecosystem.

Should one choose to visit this national park in the summer, there are a few safety tips the website provides:

  • drink plenty of water
  • avoid hiking in the heat
  • travel prepared to survive
  • watch for signs of trouble
  • follow the speed limits and wear your seatbelts
  • watch out for dangerous animals, especially at your feet
  •  be aware of Hantavirus conditions
  • watch out for flash floods
  • be careful and prepared in the backcountry
  • know what to do and who to call in an emergency.

Death Valley National Park is definitely on my list to experience soon. Maybe when we go back to Joshua Tree, we will also plan for Death Valley. They really are not that far away from each other in the whole scheme of things, and they provide two very different desert national park experiences.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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