Death Valley National Park turned into a tourist and media hot-spot this past weekend as the park’s famous thermometer soared.
With near record-setting temperatures forecast throughout the West last weekend, visitors from all over the world traveled to Death Valley to see if a new world record would be set in what’s already considered the hottest place on Earth.
According to National Park Service Public Information Officer Cheryl Chipman, the temperatures were hot enough to set a new record for the month of June, but at 129°F on Sunday, Death Valley was just five degrees shy of the July 10, 1913 world record of 134 degrees. That record was set at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley.
Sunday’s 129°F is one degree hotter than the 1996 record of 128°F for the month of June. It also matches a previous heat wave experienced in July 1913, when five consecutive days of 129°F or above were recorded in Death Valley.
But Death Valley wasn’t the only community in Inyo to experience excessive heat. According to the National Weather Service, Bishop’s 107- degree heat on Saturday nearly beat out the previous record for the area, 108°F, set in 1972.
While many in the Owens Valley, from Bishop to Lone Pine, headed to upper elevations, swam in the Owens River or stayed indoors to keep cool, others actually sought out the heat, heading to Death Valley in hopes of being present for a new world record.
“It was a busy weekend,” Chipman said. “We had quite a few media outlets and a lot of visitors. It was hot, and they were happy.”
Chipman said the National Park Service does not keep records of exactly how many visitors pass through the gates at the park each day, but she did say that Badwater and Furnace Creek were busy park destinations.
Despite the increase in visitation, Chipman said there was only one heat-related emergency in the park over the weekend.
According to DVNP Chief Ranger Karen McKinlay-Jones, a Colorado resident in his late 50s was airlifted out of the park late Saturday afternoon after experiencing heat-related complications while “hiking in the Mesquite Dunes in the mid-afternoon.”
McKinlay-Jones said the man was released from the hospital Sunday afternoon.
“Amazingly enough, that was the only call,” McKinlay-Jones said. “I think that it’s hot enough that people are realizing that they just can’t be out there.”
However, Chipman did say that she has heard reports that one visitor to the park over the weekend donned a Darth Vader costume, and was caught on camera taking a jog in the heat of the day.
According to the L.A. Times, Jon Rice, 42, of Longmont, Colo., decided to run a mile in the Vader costume to earn the “hottest verified run” for Guinness World Records.
Rice ran on the center white line of State Route 190 so his shoes wouldn’t melt on the asphalt.
He described the experience to the L.A. Times as “abject pain.”
DVNP and the National Park Service said in a press release that all visitors should take safety measures while visiting the park in extreme temperatures. The DVNP offers the following life-saving tips:
• Drink plenty of water – Drink at least one gallon (4 liters) of water per day to replace loss from sweat, more if you are active. Fluid and electroyte levels must be balanced, so have salty foods or “sports drinks” too.
• Avoid hiking in the heat – Do not hike in the low elevations when temperatures are hot. The mountains are cooler in summer, but can have snow and ice in winter.
• Travel prepared to survive – Stay on paved roads in summer. If your car breaks down, stay with it until help comes. Carry extra drinking water in your car in case of emergency.
• Watch for signs of trouble – If you feel dizzy, nauseous or a headache, get out of the sun immediately and drink water or sports drinks. Dampen clothing to lower body temperature. Be alert for symptoms in others.
The Fahrenheit frenzy in Death Valley isn’t over, meanwhile.
DVNP and the NWS will host a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the hottest recorded temperature in the world, on July 10.
The event will feature meteorologists from the NWS as well as National Park Service rangers who will discuss topics such as the inquiry into the record measurements (recently changed from El Azizia, Libya to Death Valley), why Death Valley is so hot, and everyday tips to survive in the hot climate.
The event will take place in the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
According to Death Valley National Park Superintendent Kathy Billings, “One million visitors each year know that Death Valley has more to offer than heat. It is a record holder on many fronts as the largest national park and wilderness outside of Alaska, and the lowest elevation and driest climate in North America. It offers some of the most unique landscapes in the National Park System and is home to thousands of plant and animal species who have adapted to this harsh environment.”