This is Phoebe Zimmerman.
this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we visit one of America's great
national parks. It is a place of strange
and silent beauty. As beautiful as this
place is, its name provides evidence of very real danger. Come with us as we visit Death Valley.
Death Valley is a land of beautiful yet dangerous
extremes. There are mountains that reach
more than three thousand meters into the sky. There is a place called Badwater that is the lowest area of land in the
Western Hemisphere. If there were water
there, it would be eighty-six meters below the level of the ocean.
Valley can be dangerously cold during the winter months. Storms in the mountains can produce sudden
flooding on the floor of the Valley.
The air temperature during the summer has been as high
as fifty-seven degrees Celsius. The sun
can heat the ground so that the temperature of the rocks and soil can be as
high as seventy-four degrees Celsius.
extreme heat of Death Valley has killed people in the past. It will continue to kill those who do not
honor this extreme climate. Death Valley
does not forgive those who are not careful.
Valley is a good example of the violence of nature. It contains evidence of several ancient
volcanoes that caused huge explosions.
Evidence of one of these explosions is called Ubehebe
Crater. The explosion left a huge hole
in the ground almost a kilometer and a half wide.
many areas of Death Valley it is easy to see where the ground has been pushed
up violently by movement deep in the Earth. This movement has created unusual and beautiful rock formations. Some are red. Others are dark brown, gray,
yellow or black.
Other areas of rock look as if some huge
creature violently broke and twisted the Earth to create unusual, sometimes
In other parts of Death Valley there are lines
in the rock that show clearly that this area was deep under an ocean for many
thousands of years. Much of the Valley
is flat and extremely dry. In fact,
scientists believe it is the driest place in the United States. In some areas the ground is nothing but
salt. Nothing grows in this salted
it would be wrong to think that nothing lives in Death Valley. The Valley is fully of life. Wild flowers grow very quickly after a little
rain. Some desert plants can send their
roots down more than eighteen meters to reach water deep in the ground.
Many kinds of birds live in Death Valley. So do mammals
and reptiles. You might see the small dog-like animal called the coyote or wild
sheep called bighorns. Other animals
include the desert jackrabbit, the desert tortoise or turtle and a large
reptile called a chuckwalla. Many kinds of snakes live in the Valley, including
one called the sidewinder rattlesnake. It is an extremely poisonous snake with long sharp teeth called fangs.
Valley is a huge place. It extends more
than two hundred twenty-five kilometers across the southern part of the state
of California, and across the border with the state of Nevada. Death Valley is part of the Great Mojave
The area was named by a woman in eighteen
forty-nine. That was the year after
gold was discovered in California. Thousands of people from other parts of the
country traveled to the gold mining areas in California. They were in a hurry
to get there before other people did.
Many people were not careful. They made bad choices or wrong decisions. One group trying to reach California
decided to take a path called the Old Spanish Trail. By December they had
reached Death Valley. They did not have
to survive the terrible heat of summer, but there was still an extreme lack of
water. There were few plants for their work animals to eat.
people could not find a pass through the tall mountains to the west of the
Valley. Slowly, they began to suffer
from a lack of food. To survive, they
killed their work animals for food and began to walk out of the Valley. As they left, one woman looked back and said,
"Good-bye, death valley." The name has never been changed.
everyone who visits Death Valley visits a huge house called Scotty's
Castle. The building design is Spanish,
with high thick walls to provide protection from the fierce heat. The main building is very large. It was built in nineteen twenty-nine in one
of the few areas of the Valley that has water.
The castle is named for Walter Scott, called Scotty by
his friends. He was a gold miner. He told everyone that he built the house with
money he made from his gold mine. Many
people believed him. But it was not
really the truth. Scotty was not a very
honest man. Some years earlier, he had
asked several people to invest in a gold mine he had in Death Valley. One of the men he asked to invest was a
businessman from Chicago, Illinois named Albert Johnson.
Mister Johnson invested in Scotty's mine. In nineteen-oh-five, he traveled to Death
Valley to see the mine. Scotty put
Mister Johnson on a horse and took him far into the mountains. Many people believe that while they were on
this trip, Scotty told Mister Johnson the truth: There was no mine. There was
Johnson suffered from extremely poor health. He had been in a severe accident a few years before. Doctors did not believe he would live much
longer. However, something happened on
his trip with Scotty. When Albert
Johnson returned from the mountains, he felt better than he had in several
years. Perhaps he felt better because
of the clean mountain air. Perhaps it was the good food Scotty cooked. Or it
may have been the funny stories Scotty told that improved Mister Johnson's
Whatever it was, Albert Johnson fell in love with Death
Valley. He and Scotty became lifelong
friends. Soon after, Albert Johnson began building a home on the western edge
of Death Valley. He did not live there
all the time. But Scotty did. And, he told everyone the huge house was his
-- bought and paid for with the money from his gold mine. Scotty told everyone that Albert Johnson,
his friend from Chicago, came to visit sometimes. Mister Johnson never told anyone it was just
a story made up by Death Valley Scotty.
Johnson lived another thirty years -- many more years than the doctors thought
he would. Some years before he died, in
nineteen forty-eight, Albert Johnson signed documents that said Walter Scott
could live in the house until he died. Scotty died in nineteen fifty-four. He is buried on a small hill near the house.
nineteen seventy, the National Park Service bought Scotty's Castle. It has since become one of the most popular
areas to visit in Death Valley National Park.
than one million people visit Death Valley each year. Many people come for just a day. Buses bring visitors from the famous city of
Las Vegas, Nevada. They ride around the
park in their bus, visit several places and are back in their Las Vegas hotel
by night. However, many other visitors
stay in the park. The most popular area to stay in is Furnace Creek.
Creek is the largest area of human activity within Death Valley National
Park. There is a hotel. There are also camping areas where people put
up temporary cloth homes, called tents. Visitors who arrive in huge motor homes
can also find a place to park their vehicles.
The famous Furnace Creek Inn is a
beautiful hotel that was built of stone more than seventy-five years ago. The inn is built on a low hill. The main public room in the hotel has large
windows that look far out over Death Valley. Hotel guests gather near these
large windows in the evening to watch the sun make long shadows on the floor of
the Valley and on the far mountains.
beautiful image seems to change each minute. The sun slowly turns the Valley a gold color that deepens to a soft
brown, then changes to a dark red. As
night comes, the mountains turn a dark purple color, then black.
Usually, visitors are very quiet when this event takes
place. A few try to photograph it. But the Valley is too huge to capture in a photograph. Most visitors watch this natural beauty and
leave with only the memory of sunset at beautiful Death Valley National Park.
This program was written by Paul Thompson and produced
by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.
this is Phoebe Zimmerman. Join us again
next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of