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Tourists flock to Death Valley as temperatures swell into triple digits

Heat, fires hit the U.S.

LAS VEGAS -- Desert dwellers in the western 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 to do just that in the days ahead as a vicious heatwave bakes parts of Arizona, California and Nevada.

Death Valley National Park is expected to reach its first 120-degree day of the year on Sunday, and temperatures could creep toward 124 by Tuesday as the sweltering system envelopes much of the region.

Officials also warned of excessive heat across southern portions of Arizona and Nevada, and throughout California's Central Valley.

A view of the Death Valley National Park sign is seen in Death Valley, Calif. on Feb. 14, 2017. Getty

The National Weather Service has issued an Excessive Heat Warning or a Heat Advisory through Thursday for the entire state of Arizona, CBS affiliate KPHO reports.

The station recommends that the public:

  • Limit outdoor activity to early morning or late evening hours.
  • Drink more water than usual.
  • Check on elderly family and small children for any signs of heat-related illnesses.
  • Make sure pets have a cool place with water. 

"There's very few places on Earth to go to experience those temperatures and Death Valley is one of those," said John Adair, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Business booms as temperatures soar in July and August at Panamint Springs Resort, near the entrance of Death Valley National Park.

"When it's 120 to 125 (degrees), there's more customers than there ever is," said Mike Orozco, who works at the resort that includes a restaurant, gas station, camp sites and cabins.

Orozco said locals jokingly refer to the summer spike as "European season," when a flood of tourists from Germany, France, Sweden and other places arrive in Death Valley to experience heat unheard of in Europe.

"Some people consider being out there in those conditions a kind of suffering. Other people can get a kind of euphoria, or a reward, out of it," said Ed Carreon, a commercial photographer in Los Angeles who regularly visits the park and prefers the scorching summer months.

A general view from Dante's View in Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2017. Getty

"As a younger man, I would go out there to test myself" by hiking peaks in the Panamint Range under blazing sun in triple-digit temperatures with the barest of supplies, Carreon said.

Now 58, he recognizes those broiling excursions as the folly of youth. He still makes the treks but usually in the morning before the day heats up "and with the proper clothes, plenty of water and sunscreen."

Almost all of inland California was predicted to simmer at above normal temperatures. In Los Angeles County the airports in neighboring Palmdale and Lancaster each matched a record high of 108 degrees set in 1985.

In Las Vegas, organizers of the three-day, outdoor Electric Daisy Carnival music festival encouraged attendees to stay hydrated. Free water was available during the nighttime event that has drawn more than 130,000 people in past years.

Traffic concerns also prompted officials to warn drivers to avoid the area as people leave the festival when the Monday morning commute begins, CBS Las Vegas reports.

Las Vegas temperatures creeped near 110 degrees on Sunday and could reach 117 when the heatwave peaks by midweek. That would be the highest temperature ever recorded at McCarran International Airport since logging began in 1937.

A look at the high temperatures in Arizona for Sun., June 18, 2017. KPHO-TV

The National Weather Service in Phoenix said the last time the temperature topped 120 was 1995, at 121. It could happen again on Tuesday. The record high is 122 degrees, set on June 26, 1990.

Teresa Flores in Phoenix said she will make sure her two sons and daughter stay hydrated.

"Water, water, water, water," Flores said. "So even when they think they're not thirsty, they're drinking water."

Meanwhile, crews took advantage of cooler overnight temperatures as they beat back wildfires that broke out amid a Southern California heat wave, CBS Los Angeles reports.

Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy says a blaze in a remote area near Lake Castaic is holding at 1,000 acres and 10 percent containment Sunday. No homes are threatened, but there were voluntary evacuations. Two outbuildings near a picnic area did burn. Firefighters are making water drops over the flames.

Residents who had to flee a small fire in the San Gabriel Mountain community of Wrightwood returned home Saturday. Judy says the 11-acre fire is 20 percent contained Sunday. About 35 homes were briefly threatened by the flames.

Several blazes broke out across the state as temperatures soared this weekend.

A small grass fire led to the temporary closure of State Route 13 in Oakland.

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