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Furnace Creek Visitor Center
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Stop 8 Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Location: Death Valley National Park, CA.
Date: March 7, 2007

Furnace Creek Visitor Center is the main visitor center for Death Valley National Park.  Death Valley got its name from Gold-seekers who were misguided and spent a month in the valley (December, 1849).  While 100 were lost, only one died.  The Death Valley Museum was initiated by Death Valley ‘49s in 1960 and was built on land donated by Borax (Holdings) Limited.  Furnace Creek is an “oasis” in the desert due to the presence of freshwater springs.

 

 

Death Valley is the lowest land in the Western Hemisphere, with Badwater at 282 feet below sea level.  However, Telescope Peak is more than 11,000 feet above the valley floor.  Death Valley is a good example of basin and range topography (high mountain ranges on either side and a flat area in between).  10 million years ago Death Valley was a rolling region, but mountain building forces tilted the rocks of the region, producing so much stress that faulting resulted.  Rocks to the east were lifted, those to left were lowered.  Erosion increased as mountains rose and the upper layers of rock were removed.  The continued stress broke the valley into step faults, with processes that are still occurring today.

 


Sign on the outside of the Visitor Center stating its location.

 

Four times since the valley began to form, shifts in climate have created lakes in Death Valley.  After each wet cycle the streams dried up and lakes evaporated, causing the landscape to look much like it does today.  The salt borax, mud, and brine on the valley floor are proof of ancient lakes in Death Valley.  Lake Manly covered the valley floor less than 25,000 years ago.  The lake was 116 miles long and as much as 600 feet deep.  The remnants of the shore features include beaches and wave-cut terraces.  The salty muds that are part of the material that fills up the valley floor to depths of up to 7,500 feet.

 


A view of the Death Valley salt pan from Dante’s View.

 

The salt crust over the mud of the valley floor is a salt pan or salina.  When salty water evaporates, some kinds of salt settle out first.  As the water level dropped in the lake, it left salts in concentric rings around the edge.  The types of salt left were carbonate salt, sulphate slat, and chloride salt.  While the salts were deposited in concentric rings, flash floods and rainstorms dissolve the salts and rearrange the outline of salt zones, which causes the pattern of Death Valley’s salt pan to be irregular.

 


A close-up view of the evaporites in the salt pan.

 

 

By Jacqueline Chambers