I am not sure what it means in this sentence by using "devastating extremes". Can "extreme" be used as a noun meaning "extreme conditions" or "extreme weather"? Is it very dry there in the Valley?

Death Valley National Park is a place of staggering beauty and devastating extremes.

What's native speakers' first reaction to "devastating extremes" on reading this sentence?

  • Did you do any research on Death Valley? The primary extreme is some of the hottest temperatures in the world and their effect.
    – user3169
    May 31, 2017 at 4:12

2 Answers 2


This (AmE) native speaker's reaction is that it's ordinary grammar, and a slightly poetic way to summarize the most salient facts about Death Valley.

Extreme can be an adjective or a noun. The plural extremes indicates that Death Valley has more than one kind of extreme condition—and they are all devastating. The extreme conditions referred to include weather conditions, but possibly other kinds of conditions (see below). The plural also suggests to me that some of the extremes might even be opposite to each other (which turns out to be true; see below). Devastating here means that the conditions are so extreme that they can kill people or cause enormous damage—possibly on a large scale or across a wide area.

Here are some facts about Death Valley:

  • It is one of the hottest locations on the surface of the Earth. During the day, the air temperature regularly goes over 120 °F (50 °C). It has been measured as high as 134 °F (56.7 °C), approximately the highest ever recorded anywhere.

  • Even the daily low temperatures in Death Valley are the highest on Earth. One night, the lowest temperature reached was 110 °F (43 °C).

  • The climate is extremely dry: the annual precipitation is only about 2" (51 mm).

  • When it does rain, the water sometimes creates ephemeral lakes—large, shallow lakes that quickly evaporate in the heat, leaving behind salt flats.

  • Death Valley has the lowest elevation in North America: 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.

  • It also has a high mountain peak: 11,043 feet (3,366 m).

I did not know any of those facts about Death Valley until I looked them up on Wikipedia just now. But the phrase devastating extremes, in the context of a sentence about Death Valley, vaguely suggests to me "those sorts of extremes".

The word devastation makes me think of images like this—which just happens to be a picture of a salt flat in Death Valley.



Extreme (n): 9. the utmost or highest degree, or a very high degree: cautious to an extreme. 10. one of two things as remote or different from each other as possible: the extremes of joy and grief. 11. the furthest or utmost length; an excessive length, beyond the ordinary or average: extremes in dress. 12. an extreme act, measure, condition, etc.

A common expression is "to extremes" meaning far beyond what is common, advisable, safe, reasonable, etc.

Many people are fond of fishing, but Bob takes it to extremes. His fishing equipment costs more than his house!

In your example, "devastating extremes" refers to definition 11 above. The implication is that the area is both very hot and very dry, and (in some places) particularly barren of life.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .