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Watching Wildlife in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is a famous American National park located at the California-Nevada border, just east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The park includes Death Valley, the northern section of the Panamint Valley, part of the Eureka Valley, and most of the Saline Valley. Home to the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts, the park is a great place to check out salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. Basically, this park has it all.

Originally inhabited by Native Americans, a group of Europeans became trapped in the valley in 1849 while looking for an easy way to get to California for the gold rush. Since one of their groups died there due to lack of water and hot sun, they named the area “Death Valley.” To their dismay, the only profitable ore to be mined in the region was borax. The valley was abandoned for some time until the 1920s when tourism expanded and included the surrounding regions. The Death Valley National Monument was declared in 1933. However, the area was not declared a national park until 1994.

Death Valley is characterized by ancient rocks that have been metamorphosed for at least 1.7 billion years. The warm and shallow seas deposited in the region, causing the different coloration. The area is also known as “one of the driest places on earth,” where fresh water can be nearly impossible to find. Animals that live in the region need to be able to survive on no water for days at a time.

Despite the heat, the inhospitable appearance, and the previous death in Death Valley, the park is still home to quite a bit of life. Famous for the desert tarantula, the park is home to the western desert tarantula, the Arizona blond tarantula, and the Mexican blond tarantula.

Birding is also certainly something to consider in the park, and you can seek out bird viewing spots along their migratory routes.

Death Valley National Park’s Top Animals

  • Tarantulas
  • Devil’s Hope Pupfish
    • This tiny incredible fish lives in a 90-degree hot spring within a limestone cave, located just outside of the valley. The fish is a miracle of creation, able to live in something that hot without the ability to migrate up or down stream. The fish congregate in the small spring, rising up to a small shelf of rock just beneath the water’s surface to feed and breed.
  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Desert bighorn sheep
  • Bats
  • Kangaroo rats
  • Cottontails
  • Foxes
  • Badgers
  • Mountain lions
  • Ringtails
  • Burros
    • Feral burros were not originally found in the park a few hundred years ago, though they can be spotted there today. It is estimated about 400 or 500 burros live in the park’s 3.4 million acres of desert and mountain.
  • Desert tortoise
    • Known as the champion of avoiding heat, the desert tortoise spends most of the year in its burrow.
  • Roadrunners

Viewing Locations

Cottonwood Creek: Located in Grapevine Canyon, Cottonwood Creek is one of the best spots to go birding in Death Valley National Park.
Amargosa River: One of the few water sources in the park, you can catch just about any kind of animal species around this river. The best spot is along the park’s border east of Furnace Creek.
Saratoga Spring: Another great spot in the park to go birding.
Scotty’s Castle: Another great birding destination.

When Should You Go?

The best time to catch Death Valley animals out in the open is during their migratory routes in the spring and fall. Since the park is so hot in the summer, it’s recommended to proceed with caution and pack tons of water. You’re not likely to catch any animals out in the open during the hot summer months.

Death Valley National Park is also considered a dark sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association. You can enjoy unparalleled stargazing any time of the year.