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Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valleymarker, Inyo County, Californiamarker, noted as the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of below sea level. Mount Whitneymarker, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states, is only 76 miles to the west.

The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of "bad water" next to the road; the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name. The pool does have animal and plant life, including pickleweed, aquatic insects, and the Badwater snail.

Adjacent to the pool, where water is not always present at the surface, repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes.

The pool itself is not actually the lowest point of the basin: the lowest point (which is only slightly lower) is several miles to the west and varies in position. However, the salt flats are hazardous to traverse (in many cases being only a thin white crust over mud), and so the sign is at the pool. It is often mistakenly described as the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere, but that is actually Laguna del Carbónmarker in Argentina at −105 meters (−344 feet).


Badwater Basin following the rains of 2005
At Badwater, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. Each newly-formed lake does not last long though, because the of average rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150-inch annual evaporation rate. This, the United States' greatest evaporation potential, means that even a 12-foot-deep, 30-mile-long lake would dry up in a single year. While the basin is flooded, some of the salt is dissolved; it is redeposited as clean crystals when the water evaporates.

Painted on the cliff above Badwater is a sign that denotes "Sea Level". The sign is popular with tourists.


During the Holocene, when the regional climate was less dry, streams running from nearby mountains gradually filled Death Valley to a depth of almost 30 feet (10m), and together with Cotton Bail Marsh and Middle Basin, made up the long, Lake Manlymarker. Some of the minerals left behind by earlier Death Valley lakes dissolved in the shallow water, creating a briny solution.

The wet times did not last as the climate warmed and rainfall declined. The lake began to dry up and minerals dissolved in the lake became increasingly concentrated as water evaporated. Eventually, only a briny soup remained, forming salty pools on the lowest parts of Death Valley's floor. Salts (95% table salt - NaCl) began to crystallize, coating the surface with a thick crust from three inches to five feet thick (1-1.7m).

File:Badwater elevation sign.jpg|Badwater Basin elevation signFile:Hexagonal Shaped Salt Crust at Badwater.jpg|Repeated freeze-thaw cycle pushes salt crust into approximately hexagonal honeycomb shapeFile:Death Valley Devil's Golf Course.jpg|Salt pinnacles in Devil's Golf CourseFile:LakeBadwater.JPG|Tourist area flooded by ephemeral Lake Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California. Spring of 2005.


  1. The American Southwest, Badwater, Death Valley National Park. Accessed 2009.11.19.
  2. Tripadvisor, Badwater. Accessed 2009.11.19.

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