When officials partially reopened Death Valley National Park on October 15, a rare spectacle was awaiting visitors: a brand-new lake in Badwater Basin.
Badwater Basin is a large salt flat that’s North America’s lowest point at 282 feet below sea level. Nearby Furnace Creek holds the record for being the hottest place on Earth after temperatures reached 134.1-degrees in 1913. (Though some scientists have cast doubt on that figure, almost all agree that Death Valley currently owns the heat record.)
Typically, Badwater Basin is extremely dry. But after Tropical Storm Hillary struck Death Valley National Park in August, water inundated the area. The storm dropped about a year’s worth of precipitation in a single day, prompting the park’s closure and causing road and infrastructure damage across the region. The closure was in effect for two months—the longest that the park has been closed since the U.S. established it.
Rangers haven’t yet measured the depth of the lake, but estimates suggest there could be as many as two feet of water in the basin. The last time the basin accumulated such a significant amount of water was nearly 20 years ago, in 2005.
“This is a really special time,” Death Valley National Park’s Superintendent, Mike Reynolds, stated. “It’s pretty rare to see a lake in Death Valley.”
In addition to hosting a new lake, Badwater Basin is also experiencing unseasonable flower blooms, surrounding the lake with yellow and orange pops of color. While the basin isn’t totally inhospitable to life—it even has its own species of endemic snail—it’s very uncommon for the basin to support flowers after spring ends due to rising temperatures and a shortage of water.
If you’re hoping to see the lake, however, you’ll need to hustle: In addition to being extremely hot, Badwater Basin has one of the highest evaporation rates in the world, which means that the lake will be short-lived. It could disappear quickly.
Park officials remind visitors that Death Valley National Park is only partially reopened, and to expect delays and lowered speed limits until the damage can be fully addressed.