Unusual signs of life pop up around Death Valley during the hottest months of the year

On average, Death Valley records at least one heat-related death per year. Often, they are tourists who underestimate the dry conditions, run out of water or wander off into desolate areas. 8/8/16 (KSNV)

When tourists visit Las Vegas during the summer, they often visit another nearby popular destination -- Death Valley National Park.

It's sometimes referred to as the land of extremes because temperatures can reach into the 120s and above.

The hottest temperature ever recorded was in Death Valley -- a scorching 134 degrees!

Park officials say the intense heat is part of the appeal for tourists, but it can also be deadly.

It's a beauty that should be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. A summer sunrise in Death Valley not only lights up the unique landscape but also signals the dawn of what will be another day of unrivaled heat.

"Quite often that temperature will be 120, 125. Four of the summers I've been here we've hit 129-degrees," said Abby Wines with Death Valley National Park.

Much of the land here is barren, scorched by the sun, windblown, and yet like clockwork during the hottest months of the year, there are unusual signs of life.

Tourists. Lots of them.

They come from all parts of the world to see the sights, and of course, experience the heat.

The primary place of lodging in Death Valley is typically booked solid a year in advance.

"You know, we are an oasis within the middle of the desert," said Clark Davis. "We do sell out July, August, September..."

Davis manages the Furnace Creek Resort less than a mile away from the park visitor's center.

"It's a beautiful place to enjoy year round, but be safe and be smart about it," Davis said.

Unfortunately, too many are not smart about it.

Death Valley averages at least one heat-related death per year, and many others experience heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

Conditions here are unrelenting and it doesn't take long for things to spiral out of control

First, maybe you run out of water. Then your heart begins to race and the dizziness sets in. Maybe you start to black out until, suddenly, it all stops.

It's what happened to actor Dave Legeno.

The 50-year-old, best known for his roles in two 'Harry Potter' films, was hiking in a remote area two summers ago when he never returned.

Heat stroke was the official cause of death. The coroner says his body was partially decomposed and may have been lying in the triple-digit temperatures for days.

The intense heat of Death Valley has claimed scores of victims including some who were well-aware of the dangers.

"We lost an employee in 2013 to heat-caused death," Wines said.

Park Manager Abby Wines says the hot sun does not discriminate, and yet, it's the same sun that makes Death Valley so alluring.

It draws nearly a million visitors to the park every year.

Just as we thought we had seen it all, then we encountered something even more unbelievable -- an altogether different type of human being.

"This is my 21st, and each star signifies a finish, so I finished 20 times," said Marshall Ulrich.

Ulrich is among a unique group of people known as Ultra Marathoners.

Considered the most extreme footrace in the world, the Ultra Marathon begins in Badwater Basin. At 279 feet below sea level, it is the lowest spot in North America.

The day we were there it was 123-degrees.

The marathoners run, walk, do whatever it takes, to travel 135 miles through the harsh elements, all the way to the base of Mt. Whitney.

Some will even climb to the peak at more than 14,500 feet.

Why do they do it?

"You know, you look at this topography out here, the sand, the rock, it's very soothing, it's very healing," Ulrich said. "I feel I can connect with it."

The answer might be different for others, but in a strange sort of way, we too understood the appeal.

We asked Ulrich if he would do it again.

"No, this is it. I said that last year, but I think this is it," Ulrich said. "I'm 65 years old, so..."

For Ulrich, it may be his last desert tour, but as surely as the sun burns bright here in Death Valley, others will certainly follow.

The vast majority of visitors in the summer are Europeans, and that's largely because that's when they take their holiday, between July and August.

Something else that people don't realize until it's too late is the lack of cell phone service.

The cell service is almost non-existent unless you are at the visitor's center or the resort.

Don't count on using your phone for help if you get into trouble.

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