World

Hundreds of tourists drawn to Death Valley despite life-threatening heatwave

Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds cautioned visitors in a statement that ‘high heat like this can pose real threats to your health’.

A stop sign warns tourists of extreme heat at Badwater Basin (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
A stop sign warns tourists of extreme heat at Badwater Basin (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP) (Daniel Jacobi II/AP)

Hundreds of European and US tourists are being drawn to Death Valley National Park even though the California region known as one of Earth’s hottest places is being hit by a dangerous heatwave blamed for a motorcyclist’s death over the weekend.

French, Spanish, English, Swiss and US tourists left their air-conditioned rental cars and motorhomes to take photos of the barren landscape.

“I was excited it was going to be this hot,” said Drew Belt, a resident of Mississippi, who wanted to stop in Death Valley as the place boasting the lowest elevation in the US on his way to climb California’s Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Kind of like walking on Mars.”

Tourists take photos in front of the Furnace Creek visitor centre thermometer (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
Tourists take photos in front of the Furnace Creek visitor centre thermometer (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP) (Daniel Jacobi II/AP)

Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds cautioned visitors in a statement that “high heat like this can pose real threats to your health”.

The searing heatwave gripping large parts of the United States also led to record daily high temperatures in Oregon, where it is suspected to have caused four deaths in the Portland area. More than 146 million people around the US were under heat alerts on Monday, especially in Western states.

Dozens of locations in the West and Pacific Northwest tied or broke previous heat records over the weekend and are expected to keep doing so into the week.

The early US heatwave came as the global temperature in June hit a record for the 13th straight month and marked the 12th straight month that the world was 1.5C warmer than pre-industrial times, the European climate service Copernicus said.

In Oregon’s Multnomah County, home to Portland, the medical examiner is investigating four suspected heat-related deaths recorded on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, officials said.

Three of the deaths involved county residents who were 64, 75 and 84 years old, county officials said. Heat also was suspected in the death of a 33-year-old man taken to a Portland hospital from outside the county.

In eastern California’s sizzling desert, a high temperature of 53.3C was recorded on Saturday and Sunday at Death Valley National Park, where a visitor, who was not identified, died on Saturday from heat exposure. Another person was taken to hospital, officials said.

They were among six motorcyclists riding through the Badwater Basin area in scorching weather. The other four were treated at the scene. Emergency medical helicopters were unable to respond because the aircraft cannot generally fly safely over 48.8C, officials said.

More extreme highs are in the near forecast with a possible high of 54.4C around midweek,

Sheik Mabrouki, of Algeria, walks through Badwater Basin (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
Sheik Mabrouki, of Algeria, walks through Badwater Basin (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP) (Daniel Jacobi II/AP)

The largest national park outside Alaska, Death Valley is considered one of the most extreme environments in the world.

The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 56.67C in July 1913 in Death Valley, though some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 54.4C, recorded there in July 2021.

“It’s impressive,” Thomas Mrzliek of Basel, Switzerland, said of the triple digit heat. “It like a wave that hits when you get out of the car, but it’s a very dry heat. So it’s not as in Europe.”

Across the desert in Nevada, Las Vegas set a record high of 48.8C on Sunday.

Extreme heat and a longstanding drought in the West has also dried out vegetation that can fuel wildfires

In California, a wildfire in the mountains of Santa Barbara County grew to more than 34 square miles by Monday night.

More than 1,000 firefighters were tackling the Lake Fire, and areas under evacuation orders included the former Neverland Ranch once owned by the late pop star Michael Jackson. The blaze was just 8% contained.