VALLEY OF THE DEAD
Barely 100 kilometers (62 mi.) from the highest peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, lies the lowest point in the western hemisphere in Death Valley, in this northern arm of the Mojave Desert, the valley floor descends to 86 meters (282 ft.) below sea level. The valley may not look large on a map—it is about 220 kilometers (136 mi.) long and between 8 and 25 kilometers (5 and 17 mi.) wide—but its searing daytime temperatures, regularly exceeding 50°C (122°F), can make it a dangerous place. Its dry, harsh climate results partly from a local rain-shadow effect of the Panamint Mountains to the west, accentuating the major rainshadow from the Sierra Nevada. The valley was named from its effect on gold-seekers and settlers, many of whom died as they attempted to cross it to reach California in the mid-19th century. Even today, tourists and trekkers regularly become stranded in the valley, and fatalities still occur. This image from the Landsat-4 satellite shows the valley as a largely white area—the color is created by mineral salts—among barren highlands, colored brown.