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Free admission to Death Valley National Park for park service milestone

Death Valley National Park
Extreme heat is the norm in summer at Death Valley National Park, where visitors come to see the salt flats that cover Badwater Basin.
(National Park Service)

The National Park Service will turn 103 on Sunday. Temperatures are expected to be a lot hotter than that at Death Valley National Park, which will mark the park service milestone by offering free admission to visitors who brave the triple-digit heat. It usually costs $25 per vehicle to enter for seven days.

Artists Palette
The popular Artists Palette in Death Valley shows splashes of red, black, green, yellow and other colors that spring from rock formations containing iron oxides, copper and mica.
(National Park Service)

Death Valley is home to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, at 262 feet below sea level. Temperatures at Badwater on Sunday are expected to be higher than 115 degrees, a Tuesday park release said. Officials recommend sticking to higher elevations, such as Dante’s View (more than 5,000 feet above sea level), where it’s expected to be in the 90s. The viewpoint offers vistas of Death Valley from the top of the Black Mountains.

Visiting the park in summer means carrying lots of water, at least a gallon of water per person per day. Officials also recommend bringing sports drinks to replenish electrolyte levels, the park’s website says. Make sure you’re wearing layered light clothing and a hat for sun protection too.

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What makes Death Valley special enough to visit in summer?

▶ It’s one of the biggest national parks in the Lower 48, covering 3.4 million acres.

▶ It’s dry, very dry. In 1929 and 1953, Death Valley didn’t record one drop of rain.

▶ It set a world record for the hottest temperature on Earth: 134 degrees at Furnace Creek Ranch on July 10, 1913.

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▶ The area got its name from pioneers from the East after some perished on their way farther west to the Gold Rush of 1849. According to the park’s history, at least one person, after being rescued, proclaimed, “Goodbye, Death Valley.”

▶ Just about everything was mined here in the past 100-plus years, including gold, silver, lead, zinc, epsom salts, borax, copper and a slew of other minerals.

Death Valley National Park
The view from Zabriskie Point, the popular vista point off Highway 190.
(Bob Greenburg / National Park Service)

▶ Catch a desert sunrise at Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point and the nearby dunes. For sunset, Zabriske and the dunes also are a good bet, as well as Artists Palette, known for hues on the rocks from oxidized metals, and Aguereberry Point.

▶ In 1977, director George Lucas shot some scenes for the original “Star Wars” movie, and fans still come to take photos at film locations.

Want to come back when it’s not so hot? The best time to visit is February, when the average high is 72 degrees.


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