Tourists descend as temperatures climb in Death Valley

By SALLY HO and CHRISTOPHER WEBER - The Associated Press Published: Sunday, June 18, 2017 11:58 p.m. CDT
AP file photo Tourists walk along a ridge April 11, 2010, at Death Valley National Park in California. Death Valley National Park was expected to reach its first 120-degree day of the year Sunday, and temperatures could creep toward 124 by Tuesday as the sweltering system envelopes much of the region. — Brian Melley

LAS VEGAS – Desert dwellers in the western U.S. see temperatures topping 120 degrees as a reason to hunker down indoors and turn up the air conditioning.

But some tourists welcome it as a bucket-list opportunity to experience Death Valley – famously the hottest place in America.

Many will get their chance in the days ahead as a vicious heatwave bakes parts of Arizona, California and Nevada.

The mercury at Death Valley National Park reached 124 degrees Sunday, and temperatures are expected to keep climbing through midweek as a dry, high-pressure system lingers over much of the Southwest. Many places saw triple-digit temperatures Sunday, and the heatwave was blamed for power outages in several areas in California.

“There’s very few places on Earth to go to experience those temperatures, and Death Valley is one of those,” said John Adair, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Business booms as temperatures soar in July and August at Panamint Springs Resort, near the entrance of Death Valley National Park.

“When it’s 120 to 125 (degrees), there’s more customers than there ever is,” said Mike Orozco, who works at the resort that includes a restaurant, gas station, camp sites and cabins.

Orozco said locals jokingly refer to the summer spike as “European season,” when a flood of tourists from Germany, France, Sweden and other places arrive in Death Valley to experience heat unheard of in Europe.

“Some people consider being out there in those conditions a kind of suffering. Other people can get a kind of euphoria, or a reward, out of it,” said Ed Carreon, a commercial photographer in Los Angeles who regularly visits the park and prefers the scorching summer months.

“As a younger man, I would go out there to test myself” by hiking peaks in the Panamint Range under blazing sun in triple-digit temperatures with the barest of supplies, Carreon said.

Now 58, he recognizes those broiling excursions as the folly of youth. He still makes the treks but usually in the morning before the day heats up “and with the proper clothes, plenty of water and sunscreen.”

Almost all of inland California was predicted to simmer at above normal temperatures. In Los Angeles County the airports in neighboring Palmdale and Lancaster each matched a record high of 108 degrees set in 1985.

In Las Vegas, organizers of the three-day, outdoor Electric Daisy Carnival music festival encouraged attendees to stay hydrated. Free water was available during the nighttime event that has drawn more than 130,000 people in past years.

Las Vegas temperatures creeped near 110 degrees on Sunday and could reach 117 when the heatwave peaks by midweek. That would be the highest temperature ever recorded at McCarran International Airport since logging began in 1937.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix said the last time the temperature topped 120 was 1995, at 121. It could happen again on Tuesday. The record high is 122 degrees, set on June 26, 1990.

Teresa Flores in Phoenix said she will make sure her two sons and daughter stay hydrated.

“Water, water, water, water,” Flores said. “So even when they think they’re not thirsty, they’re drinking water.”