This is a place of extremes, of great contrast and myth. It is here a barren, arid wasteland gives rise to some of the most beautiful and rare flora on earth. This is a place where creatures come alive and flowers bloom as the sun sets, where sand dunes and salt flats give way to snow-covered mountains. It is here strange gems and minerals are pulled from the ragged earth while mysterious stones sail across the cracked desert floor as if my magic. This is one of the most visited places in the American west, despite bearing such forbidding names such as the Devil’s Golf Course, Devil’s Hole, Deadman Pass, Funeral Peak, Badwater Basin, Hells Gate and Last Chance Mountain. Named by a group of travelers who believed this mass expanse of badlands and desert would be their graves, this land is foreboding but not unconquerable. This is Death Valley National Park.
A geological wonder, Death Valley stands out from other national parks in several ways. It is the hottest national park by record as well as the driest. It also reaches the lowest point of any national park in the Lower 48. While its name conjures up images of deserts and badlands, it is also home to one of the most beautiful wildflower displays each spring and is often covered in snow throughout the winter. While the heat of the day can be unbearable, the freezing temperatures of the night can be even harder to survive. Despite the rough conditions, plants, animals and humans have still been able to survive and thrive here. Those willing to overlook its name have always found Death Valley to be one of the most awe-inspiring sites in America.
Originally preserved due in part to its extensive underground cave network, the park today contains the Basin and Range Province of the much larger Great Basin itself. Located less than 15 miles from the Nevada-Utah state line, this national park is located off the beaten path, surrounded by small unincorporated communities and ghost towns. Its nearly 300 miles to Las Vegas in the south or 230 to Salt Lake City in the northeast. However, those who venture out will have a chance to see an untouched segment of America, a place of rock arches, underground caverns, canyons, mountains, lakes, pine forests and mountain meadows.
From a valley that reshapes its trees into strange formations to a desert where rocks seem to magically move to some of the strangest colored waters in the world to the giant remnants of lost ancient civilizations, North America is home to some unique sites. In addition to those man-made wonders, the varied landscape of this region ranges from the wintry, dense forests of Canada to the diverse ecosystems of the U.S. to the Mexican desert, coastal Caribbean islands and dense jungle of Central America help make it an awe-inspiring place to visit.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Rediscovered in 1989, the cave is located within Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and in order to get a look inside, visitors must swim in and then wade through water for nearly three-fourths of a mile. Once inside, visitors can see remnants left behind by the ancient Maya, who researchers believed used this cave either as a burial ground of a place for sacrificial victims. Several skeletal remains have been discovered - and permanently left - in the cave that are believed to be thousands of years old. Of the 14 bodies discovered, the most famous is the Crystal Maiden.
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