The northern end of Panamint Valley from the Panamint Dunes, with Lake Hill (center) surrounded by the Cottonwood Mountains (left), the Panamint Range topped by 11,043-foot Telescope Peak (center left), the Slate Range (center right), and the Argus Range (right)
At almost 3.4 million acres, Death Valley National Park is the largest National Park outside of Alaska and the fifth largest National Park overall. It encompasses entire mountain ranges and arid valleys at the western edge of the Great Basin, where the Mojave Desert transitions into the higher, colder Great Basin Desert. The Great Basin, hemmed in on the west by the Sierra Nevada, on the east by the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains, and on the south by the Colorado Plateau, is defined by the inability of any of its streams or rivers to reach the sea. They all flow from mountains or springs to valleys where they vanish, just as the Amargosa River flows south through Nevada, makes a wide, northerly turn, and ends in the salt flats of Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California.
For all its justifiably famous desert, Death Valley National Park is a landscape of staggering topographical relief. From Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level and the lowest point in North America, it is less than twenty miles as the raven flies to Telescope Peak, at 11,043 feet the highest point in the Panamint Range and in the Park. The Panamints and their companion ranges in the Park, including the Black Mountains and Grapevine Mountains of the Amargosa Range, are some of the 160 north-south trending ranges, which, along with the ninety valleys in between, comprise the Basin and Range Province.
The rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada, the wind that sweeps off the slopes, the dry air that rises with each succeeding range and then is pushed into each valley by the wind, and the low elevation of Death Valley makes it the hottest and driest place in North America. The average temperature in July is 116 degrees. The record high is 134 degrees.