Huge Lake Appears in North America's Hottest, Driest Spot

Public Domain. Max Pixel

Check out these photos of a surprise 10-mile lake that popped up in Death Valley, California

Death Valley is knows for a lot of things. Given its morbid moniker by 19th-century gold prospectors who lost colleagues there when heading west, the area has the lowest elevation in North America. The national park is one of the country's driest places, and it boasts the highest official recorded temperature on the planet (134°F on July 10, 1913). What it is not known for, however, is lakes – which is why the recent appearance of one is so notable.

On March 7, photographer Elliott McGucken started on his way to Badwater Basin (pictured above), hoping to photograph vestiges of the recent trains. Due to the flooding though, he was unable to get far ... and instead stumbled upon the massive, pop-up lake near Salt Creek.

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

The images show the lake with the Panamint Range and snow-capped Telescope Peak reflected in the water.

SF Gate explains that the lake came by way of a storm packed with tropical moisture that soaked Southern California, triggering floods on several of the park's roads.

The park service estimates that the lake stretched an expansive 10-miles. In an email to McGucken, a park employee wrote, "I believe we would need aerial photos to accurately determine the size. From the road, it looks like it stretched from approximately Harmony Borax Works to Salt Creek right after the rain, which is a little less than 10 road miles. But, the road does curve a bit, so it's not an entirely accurate guess."

Park employees say that a lake this large in this location is rare. And no wonder: Usually the Furnace Creek rain gauge sees a scant 0.3 inches of rain for the entire month of March. In a mere 24 hours last week, the gauge recorded 0.84 inches – while the surrounding mountains saw up to 1.5 inches.

And if an inch of rain doesn't sound like much, in such an arid place, that's all it takes. "Because water is not readily absorbed in the desert environment, even moderate rainfall can cause flooding in Death Valley," according to meteorologist Chris Dolce. "Flash flooding can happen even where it is not raining. Normally dry creeks or arroyos can become flooded due to rainfall upstream."

So what other tricks might the world's hottest place have up its sleeve? The National Park Service provides a hint. "In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers..." Superbloom, anyone?