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A Huge Lake Has Suddenly Appeared in Death Valley

Luckily, the natural wonder was caught on camera by a photographer.

by Sarah Emerson
Mar 13 2019, 6:59pm

Death Valley National Park. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Death Valley, with its arid vistas and scorching temperatures, isn’t renowned for containing large bodies of water. It’s one of the driest places in North America, so when a huge lake suddenly appeared there last week it was cause for wonder and excitement.

A roughly 10-mile-long lake materialized in Death Valley National Park sometime after a heavy bout of rain near the popular Salt Creek area. It was immortalized on camera by photographer Elliot McGucken who encountered the sight on his way to Badwater Basin (which he ultimately couldn’t reach due to road closures at the time).

“It's a surreal feeling seeing so much water in the world's driest place,” McGucken told SFGate on Tuesday. “There's an irony even though I couldn't get down to Badwater Basin. Overall, I think these shots are probably more unique.”

When McGucken first encountered the lake, strong winds were rippling the water’s surface. “Then, the wind died down and it got really calm," he told SFGate.

The park’s chief of education and interpretation, Patrick Taylor, told McGucken in an email the lake was the largest he’s seen in Death Valley, reported SFGate. (Taylor added that smaller ponds have occasionally formed after storms.)

While Death Valley National Park holds the world record for hottest recorded air temperature—reaching 134 degrees Fahrenheit at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913—that doesn’t mean it’s hot and dry all the time.

The region experiences seasonal cool temperatures, winter storms, and summer monsoons. And although the park’s average annual rainfall amounts to approximately two inches, flash floods can quickly transform the landscape.

The average monthly rainfall for Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park in March is 0.3 inches, SFGate noted. But in just a 24-hour timespan last week, the area accumulated 0.84 inches, according to a local gauge.

“The desert soils are dry and compact,” National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Lericos told SFGate. “It's like putting water on concrete.”

The lake appears to be shrinking, as pointed out by IFLScience on Wednesday. So if you want to see it, you’d better hurry.