Death Valley

Visit the brutally hostile landscape of Death Valley: an “otherworld” steeped in contradiction.

Produced by NHNZ

Sprawling across three and a half million acres in southern California, Death Valley National Park is the largest in the continent United States.

No place in the western hemisphere is as hot, dry or hostile

For eight months of the year the temperature stays in the three figures. There is little vegetation to offer shelter from the moistureless skies. Animals such as the kangaroo rat attempt to keep cool by sealing themselves in underground burrows, keeping hydrated by the moisture of their own breath.

But up on ground level an unlikely event takes place.

While its natural inhabitants hide from the sun’s intense heat, a group of humans actively seek it out. These are competitors in Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile footrace across Death Valley’s floor – self-inflected torture at its most epic.

As the runners tread the dangerous line between exhaustion and death, beneath their feet is a secret oasis.

In twisted irony, the driest place in the United States sits atop the country’s largest aquifer system. Spanning almost 40,000 square miles, the water-filled caverns plunge to a depth of 20,000 feet. Within this watery netherworld lives the tiny Devil’s Hole pupfish. Numbering less than 200 this ancient species is highly endangered.

The incongruity of marathon runners plodding slowly through the desert haze is more than equalled by the sight of wetsuit wearing divers entering Devil’s Hole on a mission to monitor the pupfish.

But perhaps these strange sights aren’t so out of place in a landscape so unworldly it could have come from science fiction. In this place plants thrive on salt, and the chuckwalla, the Valley’s largest lizard, can live its life without ever taking a drink.

The natural history of Death Valley is just as extreme as its living present. For two billion years the valley has churned with the violence of its natural forces. Mountains build up and break down; seething subterranean caldrons, thundering volcanoes and cataclysmic earthquakes twisted, warped and rocked the landscape.

Yet despite nature’s violence, Death Valley is a place of unfathomable beauty. A place where the night sky is clearer than anywhere else in the mainland United States and where rare rainstorms can cause a flourish of flowering colour, transforming the valley into an extraordinary lake

In Death Valley the land and the sun conspire to create an environment so inhospitable it can kill. But within this most extreme place flourishes nature’s raw magnificence where things are seldom as they seem.

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