By now you’ve likely heard that Death Valley set a new high temperature record on Sunday, June 30, 2013: 129 Fahrenheit. I have a long history in Death Valley and spend a lot of time in the Park each year (DeathValleyPhotoTours), so when the prognostications started flying regarding Death Valley’s potential to break its own heat record (134F, recorded July 10, 1913) I had to be there.
We arrived at the Badwater parking lot just after 2pm, our target time. There were a surprising number of people: Europeans are known to relish this heat and enjoy summer holidays in Death Valley. CNN was also present, talking with tourists and conducting a classic solar-radiation-egg-frying experiment in the parking lot (unfortunately, too many are conducting this experiment). Our thermometers indicated the temperature was around 121-122F, which was confirmed by CNN. I was initially disappointed. I expected Badwater to be HOT HOT (the Weatherspace.com believes it was hotter).
We moved on to the Furnace Creek Resort, where outside the general store hung an old analog thermometer with its needle beyond its maximum high temperature of 130F. We enjoyed the oven-like concentration of heat under the shade of the date palms. Even in the shade, the breeze was akin to the heat blast you receive when you open an oven door. It felt hotter than Badwater.
We moved over to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center after 3:30pm to find a throng of tourists, media, and two guys dressed in Darth Vader and Chewbacca outfits. The digital sign out front displayed 132F, although this thermometer is affected by direct solar radiation and is inaccurate. Just minutes later at 4pm the National Park Service took its official reading of 129 degrees Fahrenheit.
Around 4pm we were ten miles north of Furnace Creek moving towards Stovepipe Wells (and eventually the cooler heights of the Panamint Mountains) when the air conditioning failed in my wife’s car! It was fine by us, but extra measures were required to keep our dog Mojave cool in the 120F+ temperatures while we moved across the desert. We arrived at Mahogany Flats around 5pm where the temperature was beautiful and the high views of the hot desert sublime.
Indeed, 120F+ is HOT, but if one is dressed properly, well hydrated, in good health and operating smartly, it’s not near as bad as you’d believe. It occurred to me upon my arrival home that in calendar year 2013 I’ve experienced a temperature swing in Death Valley National Park of 126 degrees: It was 3F on the Racetrack on a bitterly cold January morning, and 129F at Furnace Creek on June 30. Death Valley: The Land of Extremes.