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“Death Valley” may seem like an obvious name for the hottest, driest location in North America—a place where, some years, no rain falls at all and where the temperature can reach 134°F. The name does, however, arise from a specific incident in which hundreds of ‘49ers became stranded there while looking for a shortcut to California’s gold mines. When the surviving members were rescued, one prospector looked back and said, “So long, Death Valley.”
Seventy years later, the promise of health overcame fear of the harsh climate as tourists flocked to Death Valley’s natural springs. Death Valley became a national park in 1994, and, spanning over three million acres in California and Nevada, it is the largest national park outside of Alaska.
Because Death Valley’s climate is already extreme, scientists fear that its plants and animals will not survive the rising temperatures that climate change will bring.