Most of Death Valley's climate zones are harshly limiting to plants and animals, but they are diverse nevertheless. Within the park, elevations range from 282 feet below sea level (Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) to 11,049 feet above sea level (Telescope Peak, blanketed by snow during winter and early spring). Little sign of life is found at the lowest elevations; any groundwater is highly saline and supports predominantly algae and bacteria. One notable exception is the unique desert pupfish, an ancient species that has slowly adapted to Death Valley's increasingly harsh conditions. In the spring, you can see the tiny fish in the marshes of Salt Creek, halfway between Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, where a boardwalk lined with interpretive plaques allows an up-close look.

Hardy desert shrubs such as mesquite, creosote, and arrowweed flourish wherever there's groundwater below or snowmelt trickling from above. You have to look closely to see the surprising number of small mammals and birds that live at the lower elevations (from below sea level to 4,000 ft.); rabbits, rodents, bats, snakes, roadrunners, and even coyotes all get by on very little water. At the higher elevations, where pinyon and juniper woodlands blanket the slopes, animals are more plentiful and can include bobcats and mule deer. Elusive bighorn sheep are found on rocky slopes and in desert canyons. Above 10,000 feet, look for small stands of bristlecone pine, the planet's longest-lived tree; some specimens on Telescope Peak are more than 3,000 years old.

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