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NATURE: Life In Death Valley

Airs Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Somewhat paradoxically, ominous clouds gather above an especially barren-looking yet beautiful section of Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in the U.S. To survive, every creature there must devise ingenious ways to adapt to the environment.

NATURE’s "Life in Death Valley" takes viewers into the simmering cauldron of one of the world’s most extreme environments.

The colorful flowers and nearby snow-capped peaks of Jubilee Pass disguise the fact that Death Valley is the nation's hottest and driest place.
Enlarge this image

Above: The colorful flowers and nearby snow-capped peaks of Jubilee Pass disguise the fact that Death Valley is the nation's hottest and driest place.

A desert mystery: what is causing this rock in Death Valley to move apparently on its own, carving a trail through the clay? It's one of many fascinating topics addressed in this program, filmed in the nation's hottest and driest place.
Enlarge this image

Above: A desert mystery: what is causing this rock in Death Valley to move apparently on its own, carving a trail through the clay? It's one of many fascinating topics addressed in this program, filmed in the nation's hottest and driest place.

From 93 million miles away, the sun fixes its heated gaze on the scorched desert expanse of Death Valley National Park — the hottest, driest place in North America. But this is no typical desert. Here, breathtaking mountains rise two miles above sprawling salt flats, and mighty sand dunes dance alongside deep craters. Nowhere else is a land so exquisite in its beauty yet brutal in its extremes.

In this ultimate testing ground, the rules are simple — adapt or perish. Fascinating desert dwellers have ingenious ways to outwit Mother Nature in their quest to survive. Tiny antelope squirrels lay with their bellies to the ground in order to purge their bodies of excess heat, while jackrabbits use their long ears to cool themselves.

Whereas the animals appear to do everything in their power to avoid the extreme conditions of Death Valley, many visitors are drawn to the park for the sheer challenge. Top athletes flirt with their own mortality in what has become known as the toughest footrace on the planet, the Badwater Ultramarathon. This 135-mile road race snakes through the valley during the cruel blaze of summer.

In Death Valley, things are never quite as they seem. Beneath its parched surface lies one of America’s largest aquifer systems. Rare access into this astonishing, water-laden underworld brings viewers into a secret realm. Here, a team of biologists works to protect the critically endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish, a species that has lived in this watery cavern since the last Ice Age.

Explore the mystique and the majesty of the largest park in the continental United States on "Life in Death Valley."

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Preview: Nature: Life In Death Valley

Above: NATURE'S "Life in Death Valley" captures the simmering cauldron of Death Valley, the hottest, driest place in the US, epic in its beauty but punishing in its brutal extremes. In a scorched landscape marked by endless miles of salt flats, molten rock canyons, and lunar craters, survival is a miracle in itself. "Life in Death Valley" stars a panorama of fascinating characters, both animal and human, such as the Devil's Hole pupfish, kangaroo rats, coyotes, roadrunners, and long-distance marathon runners.

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Nature: Life In Death Valley: Devil's Hole Pupfish

Above: Biologists are on a mission to save Death Valley's most precious treasure -- the tiny Devil's Hole Pupfish, featured in NATURE's "Life in Death Valley." The program captures the simmering cauldron of Death Valley, the hottest, driest place in the US, epic in its beauty but punishing in its brutal extremes. In a scorched landscape marked by endless miles of salt flats, molten rock canyons, and lunar craters, survival is a miracle in itself.

Video

Nature: Life In Death Valley: Escape Artist

Above: The fringe-toed lizard is custom equipped to handle Death Valley as featured in NATURE's "Life in Death Valley."

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