When Nathan Mendoza heard that the all-time heat record may be broken in Death Valley National Park on Sunday, he made calls to find someone to accompany him from Orange County to the hottest place on Earth.
After checking that his car was in good shape and filling a cooler with ice and water bottles, Mendoza and friend Rob Petrosyan made the drive.
“We thought this would be a great opportunity to witness history, and when history is within driving distance you don’t pass on it,” Petrosyan said while standing in the heat at Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
He and Mendoza posed for a photo in front of the thermostat next to the visitor center.
As the two stood in front of the thermostat, with readings that are a little higher than the actual temperature, it showed just over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
The National Weather Service had forecast that Sunday’s high at Death Valley could come close reaching the highest temperature reading ever recorded — 134 degrees Fahrenheit — a feat that occurred in July 1913 and recognized by the World Meteorological Organization.
But the record remained out of reach, as Sunday’s high of 128 degrees fell just six degrees short of tying the high.
Death Valley’s scorching temperatures have come during a broader heat wave that has put roughly one-third of Americans across the country under some type of heat advisory, watch or warning.
Las Vegas, which on Sunday tied its daily record high for July 16 at 116 degrees Fahrenheit, is no exception. In response to the high temperatures, Clark County opened several cooling stations throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
Such extreme heat can have deadly consequences. A heat wave in parts of the South and Midwest killed more than a dozen people last month.
‘Feels like you’re in a hot sauna’
At Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center, many of the heat-seekers taking photos by the thermostat and cooling off in the visitor center were visiting the U.S. from other countries.
Canadian couple Chandler and Joshua Murphy came to Death Valley after spending time at the Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. They had wanted to visit the park, but the couple said they did not plan for their visit to Death Valley to happen on same day that threatened to break a 110-year-old heat record.
While standing outside in the blistering weather, Chandler Murphy noted it “feels like you’re in a hot sauna.”
Park ranger Nichole Andler, a park ranger and chief of interpretation and education, said the most popular months for tourists in Death Valley are in the spring, but lately the late summer months have been gaining popularity.
“We have seen, over the last several years, a trend where July and August are seeing well over 100,000 visitors a month,” Andler said.
‘Exerting yourself in extreme conditions’
However Death Valley’s summer popularity does not come with risk. Extreme heat in the national park this year already resulted in one death, a 65-year-old man from San Diego that died earlier this month. Andler said that while not all of the details are known, the man likely died from heat-related illness.
Andler called the death “extremely regrettable” and said Death Valley’s staff members try to educate visitors on how to be safe in the baking heat.
The first tip Andler shared for staying safe when it’s blisteringly hot is to drink water, and in Death Valley, more water than usual.
“You’re exerting yourself in extreme conditions, so a bottle of water is not enough. We recommend four liters per person per day,” Andler said.
Andler said not to venture too far away from air conditioning in your car or the visitors center. She also noted that the summer months are not the time to even drive through Death Valley without air conditioning, even at night.
Another tip Andler shared is to let people back home know that you’re going to Death Valley before you go, so if they don’t hear from you, they can let staff members know you’re missing.