Check out the names on a Death Valley map: Funeral Mountains. Last Chance Range. Coffin Canyon. Deadman Pass. They don’t sound like places where the living is easy. Park ranger Alan Van Valkenburg, who has made Death Valley his home for 25 years, agrees completely. “This is a very tough place for life to survive. There’s extreme heat and extreme dryness. But with that said, life manages to find a way.”
Indeed. North America’s hottest and driest place, which gets less than two inches of rain per year and bakes in blistering summer temperatures, harbours over 400 animal species and over 1,000 types of plants. The key is their adaptations—the evolutionary hardwiring that prepares them for Death Valley’s extremes. We asked Ranger Van Valkenburg for his insider’s knowledge on a few of the park’s most intriguing inhabitants, and the fascinating adaptions that help them survive—and even thrive—in this devilish climate.
—by Ann Marie Brown