In the heart of the United States’ Death Valley National Park, where rain is a rare occurrence, a surprising turn of events has unfolded. The park, renowned for its bone-dry landscapes and sweltering temperatures, has been closed to visitors for over two weeks. But hold on, it’s not the scorching summer heat that’s to blame this time around. Instead, the culprit behind this unexpected closure is none other than the remnants of Hurricane Hilary, a storm we might recall from the past.
On August 20th, Death Valley experienced a remarkable and record-breaking event: it received a substantial 2.2 inches (55.88 mm) of rainfall at Furnace Creek. This single day of rainfall now stands as the wettest ever recorded at that location, as confirmed by a recent press release from the National Park Service.
What’s surprising is that a place accustomed to drought and heat was brought to its knees by an out-of-place torrential downpour. The result? Extensive damage across the park, particularly to its major roads. The storm not only caused erosion but also left roads strewn with debris, with some pavement loss and undercutting.
This unfortunate scenario eerily echoes a similar event just last year when a record-breaking rainfall in August 2022 also forced the park to shut its gates, embarking on extensive road, trail, and facility repairs.
And so, the laborious process of restoration begins anew. Despite having successfully repaired all the paved roads damaged in the 2022 flood, the recent storm caused significant additional harm, particularly in the park’s backcountry, as reported by the National Park Service.
Currently, there’s no clear end in sight for this closure. In a Labor Day update posted on the park’s Facebook page, the management candidly admitted, “Given the scope of the impacts from Tropical Storm Hilary, and the widespread debris on roads and areas of pavement damage, we don’t yet have a timeline for when the roads will reopen.”
For those yearning for an alternative desert escape, Joshua Tree National Park, located to the south, remains open. However, it’s worth noting that even in the desert, extremes can strike unexpectedly, as evidenced by a recent fire ban imposed in Joshua Tree National Park.
Quick Facts About Death Valley National Park
- Extreme Temperatures: Death Valley is renowned for its extreme temperatures. It holds the record for the hottest air temperature ever recorded on Earth, with a scorching 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius) in 1913. Summers can be blistering, with temperatures regularly exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).
- Lowest Point in North America: Badwater Basin, located in Death Valley, is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level. It’s a vast salt flat and a surreal landscape.
- Driest National Park: Death Valley is the driest national park in the United States, receiving only about 2.2 inches (55.88 mm) of rainfall per year on average. Rain is a rare occurrence, contributing to the desert’s arid reputation.
- Diverse Geology: The park is known for its diverse geology, including colorful canyons, rugged mountains, sand dunes, and unique rock formations like the famous “Racetrack Playa,” where rocks mysteriously move across the dry lakebed.
- Unique Wildlife: Despite its harsh conditions, Death Valley is home to a variety of wildlife adapted to desert life. Visitors can spot desert bighorn sheep, kit foxes, coyotes, and numerous reptiles and bird species.
- Starry Skies: Death Valley National Park is recognized as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, making it an exceptional place for stargazing. The clear desert skies provide excellent views of celestial objects, including the Milky Way.
- Historic Sites: The park features historical sites such as Harmony Borax Works and Scotty’s Castle, which provide insights into the area’s mining and pioneering history.
- Huge Size: Covering approximately 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. It spans California and Nevada.
- Popular Tourist Destination: Despite its harsh environment, Death Valley attracts over a million visitors annually who come to experience its unique landscapes, geological formations, and extreme conditions.
- Protected Wilderness: In 1994, Death Valley was designated a national park, ensuring its unique ecosystems and geological wonders are preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Remember to plan your visit to Death Valley National Park carefully, especially during the hot summer months, as extreme temperatures can be life-threatening. Always carry plenty of water and be prepared for the challenging desert environment.