The record heat in Death Valley turned the hot spot into a draw for the meteorologically curious — and brave.
According to the National Weather Service, Sunday’s highest temperature was 129 degrees, making it the hottest June temperature ever recorded in the U.S. The soaring temperature also beat out the park’s hottest temperature from last summer by one degree, according to park officials.
“It’s early for us to have these temperatures in June,” said park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman. “We hope getting to 129 this early in the season is not foreboding.”
The National Weather Service’s mercury thermometer had indicated 128 degrees at 4 p.m. Sunday, matching the record for the hottest June day anywhere in the U.S.
More than 200 yards away, the National Park Service’s thermometer showed 129.9 degrees.
On Sunday, ravens huddled in the shadows of desert scrub, panting with their beaks open wide. The desert pupfish in Salt Creek swam for cover in the deeper, cooler pools near the stream’s headwaters. A sign posted at the entrance to the Furnace Creek Golf Course said, “Closed at 12:30 p.m. due to extreme heat.”
“Our main concern is safety,” said Carole Wendler, interpretive park ranger. “We’re advising visitors that this is not the weekend to go hiking.”
But Jon Rice, 42, of Longmont, Colo., decided to run a mile in a heat-absorbing black Darth Vader costume replete with a large plastic black helmet. He was hoping to record the “hottest verified run” for Guinness World Records. Rice ran on the center white line of Highway 190 in the heart of Death Valley so his shoes wouldn’t melt on the asphalt.
He described the experience as “abject pain. The first hundred yards are fine. The second hundred yards are all about, ‘Gosh, what the heck was I thinking?” Finishing, he said, took “grim determination.”
The uncertainty over the precise temperature measurement left a small crowd of visitors to the park’s headquarters sweating in anticipation — and frustration.
Park officials said the mercury thermometer offers the only official temperature reading. The delay in certifying the peak temperature came about because the 8 a.m. daily reading shows the highest temperature for the last 24 hours.
The highest temperature ever recorded on the planet was in Death Valley on July 10, 1913 — 134 degrees.
Death Valley will commemorate the 100th anniversary of that mark with a celebration next week.