DEATH VALLEY, Calif. — Amidst one of the hottest, driest
and lowest-elevation places on the surface of the earth is a surprising,
puzzling reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Mormon Point" is one of the key, signed locations
within the south end of Death Valley National Park, a place famous for
temperatures (120 degrees-plus is common in the summer, and an all-time
134 degrees was recorded on July 10, 1913).
About 16 miles south of Badwater (the lowest point in North
America at 282 feet below sea level) and on the east side Death Valley,
words "Mormon Point" appear on a sign along the Badwater Highway
through the national park.
Where did the Mormon name originate from?
Most sources say it is unknown, but "Chronology and
Names of the Death Valley Region in California, 1849-1949," by T.S.
Palmer, published in 1989, does claim a beginning.
"So named from the early Mormon explorers," that
Since early Death Valley history is full of references to
Mormon explorers/travelers, that seems very likely. Also, travelers into
early part of the 20th century did not follow today's I-15 route into
California, traveling more northward seeking water sources. This route
toward the southern edge of Death Valley.
The first map reference to Mormon Point was in 1910.
Into the 1990s, the prominent road sign was misspelled
"Morman Point" for many years until the Park Service finally got it
Wildflowers in spring are very prominent in the Mormon Point
area. Desert bighorn sheep can sometimes be spotted nearby.
However, road sealing work limited travel in the area during
the spring of 2010.
Only Death Valley visitors who enter or leave the national
park via Jubilee Pass and the town of Shoshone are likely to ever see
Point. Most visitors to Death Valley never travel south of Badwater.
Mormon Point is actually a large promontory, or cape, of the
Black Mountain Range, where there are ash beds, mudstone and
formed some 12,000 to 2.5 million years ago during the early and middle
Pleistocene geological epoch (covering the world's recent period of
glacial period). The area is located at about sea level.
Various geological Web sites also refer to the Mormon Point
"turtleback," a term used to describe range front features created by
undulations (wave motions) along exposed surfaces of large, young fault
Because precipitation is extra low in Death Valley, erosion
has not completely eroded the turtleback formation.
Lane Manly, an ancient freshwater lake that was up to 800
feet deep in its heyday, used to exist southeast of Mormon Point, inside
Gold Valley is just east of Mormon Point. Colorfully named
Funeral Peak (elevation 6,384), Coffin Peak (5,503) and Deadman Pass
are all found just northeast of Mormon Point, too.