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Tourists expected to descend on Death Valley as temperatures climb

Death Valley Park Ranger Roberto Mendez poses next to the thermometer at Furnace Creek Visitor Center. (NPS photo)

Desert dwellers in the southwestern 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 -- 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.

Death Valley National Park reached its first 120-degree day of the year Saturday, and temperatures could creep toward 125 or higher by Tuesday as the sweltering system envelopes much of the region.

This week’s highest temperature, 126° F, is predicted on Tuesday’s solstice, which is the first day of summer.

Officials warned of excessive heat across southern portions of Arizona and Nevada, and throughout the 450-mile length of California's Central Valley.

Officials are concerned about park visitors, many of whom are from cooler countries. The summer edition of the park’s newspaper includes heat safety information in German, French and Italian. Rangers have already responded to multiple heat-related medical calls this season.

Earlier in June, a woman required ambulance transportation to a hospital because of third-degree burns on her feet. She had lost her sandals in Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and walked about a half mile on the hot sand. The temperature of the sand was not recorded, but touching a 120-degree surface for more than five minutes can cause burns of that severity. Ground temperatures are generally significantly higher than official temperatures, which are recorded about 4 feet off the ground in the shade. Ground temperatures over 200 degrees have been measured in Death Valley. To put that in perspective, 160 degrees is sufficient to cook meat.

In spite of the heat – or perhaps because of the heat – large numbers of people visit Death Valley National Park in the summer. In recent years, more than 100,000 people have visited the park each summer month.

Park rangers recommend that visitors not stray from their air conditioned vehicles for more than 15 minutes, avoid activity in the middle of the day, wear a hat and sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and remember eat light meals or snacks, even if they don’t feel hungry. Park rangers suggest that people spend more time at higher (and cooler) sites in the park, such as Dantes View.

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