By 9am, the two bags of ice I loaded into the cooler are gone and the floor of my rental car looks like a bin at a recycling plant. Hydration is essential.
I know what to expect in Death Valley: unrelenting heat so bad it makes my eyes hurt, as if someone is blowing a hair dryer in my face. I don’t leave CDs or electronics in the car because they could melt or warp. I always carry bottles of water.
But I still make mistakes. I forget my oven mitts, the desert driving trick I learned as a teenager after burning my hands on the steering wheel. And my rental car is black, adding several degrees to the outside temperature of 127F [53C].
When the big digital thermometer at the Furnace Creek visitor centre ticks up to 128F, a few people jump out of their cars to take a picture. The record temperature for the region – and the world – is 134F, reached a century ago.
I try to work in flip-flops, but the sun sears the tops of my feet and I am forced to put shoes on. My cellphone, pulled from my shirt pocket, is so hot it burns my ear when I try to take a call from my wife.
One of my first stops is at the Furnace Creek Golf Course, a place I’ve played in the past. The guy in the pro shop tells me they’ve had only two players all morning. Both were employees.
I don’t stay long. The camera around my neck gets so hot it stops working. An error message flashes up.
I’m surprised to find out that hotels are packed with visitors. This is Death Valley’s busy season. Tourists, mostly from Europe, come to experience extreme heat, or maybe they just don’t know what they’re getting into. Death Valley is between the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, and many people add it to their itinerary.
Tourists are out today, but they rarely emerge from their cars. They drive through the brown, cracked landscape, peering out at the vast desert and occasionally rolling down the windows to feel the heat, but only briefly. Those who do get out of their cars park in sparse shade, sprint to local landmarks, snap a few photos and then jump back in to the air conditioning. By midday, few people can be seen.
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