Once called a “pit of horrors” where “only noxious and venomous things” lived, Death Valley’s mysteries attracted many who wanted to explore this stark and scorched land. They discovered much to appreciate.
Scientists and surveyors began trekking to the region in the 1850s while searching out a route for a transcontinental railroad. An 1861 survey party made an incredible discovery about Death Valley: it sits below sea level!
Later scientists discovered a wealth of intriguing fossils, unusual minerals, and exotic flora and fauna adapted for desert survival. Scientific investigations continued after Death Valley became a National Monument in 1933.
The increase in visitation hastened the need for improvements. During the 1930s, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to improve roads, water lines, and other facilities for visitors.
Fossil and geologic specimens, historic advertisements and postcards, and the great wealth of photographic and film records have been preserved and still excite interest in a land once feared, but now venerated for its mystery and extremes.