Death Valley’s Soaring Temperatures Draw Thousands Of Visitors In The Summer
Summertime in California’s Death Valley National Park is extreme. And that is largely the reason the arid, desolate and ruggedly beautiful park draws more than 227,000 travelers during summer months when daytime temperatures often exceed 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Situated in east-central California on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the park hosts as many as 900 tour bus travelers each day. Nearly all of the visitors are from European countries; most come from Germany, France and the UK. Before entering the bustling Wrangler Buffet at the Ranch at Furnace Creek, travelers often pose for a picture outside under a large thermometer that registers the current temperature so they can prove to friends back home that they made the trek to the famous Death Valley, the hottest, driest and lowest point in North America. Lunchtime in the restaurant is a smorgasbord of languages – German, French, Italian and Dutch.
“European travelers in particular love it here during our extreme summer months,” said Phil Dickinson, director of sales and marketing for the Furnace Creek Resort. “I think it is combination of the beauty of our wide open spaces, international travelers’ love of everything about the American West and, of course, our extreme heat.”
And the heat is indeed extreme. Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet and its record-high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit recorded in 1913 is second only to El Azizia, a desert in Libya, which reportedly reached 136 degrees Fahrenheit in 1922.
In addition to the tour buses the Ranch hosts golf groups with a penchant for the extreme and automotive companies conducting hot-weather testing for new vehicle models. One golf group from Las Vegas stages the ominously named “Heatstroke Invitational” each July. Additionally, there are Hollywood movie shoots and national magazine photo shoots regularly staged throughout the park. The park’s otherworldly geography makes it a particularly great location for science fiction movies. Parts of the 1977 mega-hit “Star Wars” were filmed in the park.
Dickinson, who has worked at the resort for many years and generally enjoys the heat, notes that there is a big difference between 100 and 125 degrees. “I think it is pretty comfortable even at 115 degrees, but you can really feel it when the thermometer hits 125 or above,” he said.
Dickinson said European visitors who are typically on multiple-week vacations and visiting many of the country’s grand Western national parks are drawn not only to the extreme temperatures but also to the park’s beauty. The barren, rocky, but spectacular vistas of the park are different from anything that exists in Europe.
According to the National Park Service nearly one million visitors visit Death Valley National Park annually. The highest visitation months are March, April, September, and surprisingly, July and August. Most of the people who visit the park during the summer months are simply passing through the park, with only about 16,000 visitors staying the night at one of two year-round lodging operations – Ranch at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells Village. Springtime is always a busy season in the park because travelers come to view the spectacularly colorful wildflowers that dot the landscape.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of the Ranch at Furnace Creek and concessions in the park, continually educates visitors about the potential dangers of the extreme heat through signs and park guides.
“We advise our summertime visitors to drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and hats and to limit physical activities to the cooler early-morning and evening hours,” said Dickinson.
Xanterra completed a project in 2008 that harnesses the power of the sun – a five-acre, one megawatt solar PV system. The massive system powers more than one-third of the resort’s electricity needs annually. During peak power generating times, the system generates more than 100 percent of all electrical needs for the properties.