Death Valley braces for scorching start to summer; multiple incidents already

Death Valley experienced its first reading of 120 degrees or higher on Saturday. Photo: Courtesy of NPS

Summer begins this week, as a major heat wave already grips much of the western United States.

Perhaps no U.S. destination will be as dangerous as California’s Death Valley National Park, which recorded its first 120-degree reading of 2017 on Saturday (124 degrees).

The National Park Service stated Sunday in a news release that the predicted high for Tuesday's solstice is 126 degrees, and that daytime temperatures will reach 120 degrees or higher through at least Friday.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley. Photo: Courtesy of Death Valley National Park

Peculiarly, the blazing summer months are among the busiest at Death Valley, as tourists, largely from Europe, wish to experience what's often referred to as "the hottest place on earth."

But the excessive heat and remoteness of much of the terrain present obvious risks.

Rangers have already responded to multiple heat-related medical issues. The most serious involved a woman who was rushed to a hospital after suffering third-degree burns to her feet. The woman lost her sandals at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and walked a half-mile atop searing sand.

Dante’s View is one of the higher (and cooler) destinations in Death Valley. Photo: Courtesy of Death Valley National Park

Ground temperatures in Death Valley, during the summer, can exceed 200 degrees. The NPS states, for the sake of comparison, that 160 degrees is sufficient to cook meat.

More than 100,000 visitors are expected to visit Death Valley National Park this summer, and the park advises extreme caution. This means bringing an abundant supply of water; not venturing beyond air-conditioned vehicles for more than 15 minutes; not hiking after 10 a.m., and trying to stay in higher park destinations, because they're cooler.

Bighorn sheep are among the critters that can survive extreme summer conditions in Death Valley. Photo: Courtesy of Death Valley National Park

An Extreme Summer Heat alert, posted to the park's website, advises tourists to "travel prepared to survive," and adds that "in the case of a heat-related illness, get to a cool place and seek help ASAP!"

Because so many visitors are from Europe, the summer edition of the park's newspaper contains safety information in German, Italian, and French.

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