Found: A Lake in Death Valley, the Hottest and Driest of the U.S. National Parks - Atlas Obscura

Found: A Lake in Death Valley, the Hottest and Driest of the U.S. National Parks

It was not a mirage.

The mountains of Death Valley stare at their own reflection.
The mountains of Death Valley stare at their own reflection. Elliot McGucken/45Epic Fine Art Landscape Photography

Death Valley National Park, which sprawls across the border of Nevada and California, is well known for its superlatives: It is the hottest, driest, and lowest of the U.S. national parks. So in early March 2019, when a lake suddenly appeared there, people were amazed and perplexed. How did this happen?

Well, it was definitely not a mirage. The estimated 10-mile-long ephemeral lake was the result of heavy rainstorms in the area. As first reported by SFGate, between March 5 and 6, Death Valley received 0.84 inches of rain. The average rainfall for the entire year is around two inches. The dry climate has created soil that can only absorb water at a very slow rate. Those two factors—the unusual volume of the rain and the extreme dryness of the soil—are what allowed the lake to form.

The lake was an estimated 10 miles long.
The lake was an estimated 10 miles long. Elliot McGucken/45Epic Fine Art Landscape Photography

This wasn’t the first time this has happened, but typically, these bodies of water are merely very shallow ponds. Patrick Taylor, the chief of education and interpretation at the park, told SFGate that this was the largest lake he had seen near that location in six years.

Luckily, the phenomenon was caught on camera by the photographer Elliot McGucken. SFGate reports that McGucken was in the area to take pictures at the Badwater Basin. However, road closures due to the heavy rains blocked the path. That’s when McGucken happened upon the lake and there was no need to look for further photographic inspiration.

The results are these dazzling photos, which capture a natural wonder that would’ve remained hidden if not for a photographer and his camera.