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Boy dies in Death Valley, underscoring danger of summertime heat

August 12, 2009 | 12:59 pm


News item: A 6-year-old boy succumbs to heat during a camping trip in Death Valley National Park after his mother's vehicle becomes stuck in soft ground on a rarely traveled dirt road. It's the third fatality attributed to the heat -- the other two involved hikers -- inside the park this summer.

Reaction: Not to sound callous but why would anyone want to camp or hike in Death Valley in August? Temperatures last week, when the latest tragedy occurred, reached 117 degrees.

That said, the tragedy may serve as yet another reminder that an excursion to Death Valley during the summer requires more careful planning than trips to most other destinations. The Las Vegas woman who had set out on a one-night camping trip with her son and dog, brought a case of 16-ounce water bottles: fine for a day or two, but she was missing for five days.

Park officials recommend that visitors drink 1 to 2 gallons of water per day while inside the park, if they'll be outside their vehicles.

They urge vehicle travelers to carry tarps that can be used for shade in case they experience car trouble. They caution visitors not to rely on cellphones because service is spotty inside the park. Equally important, they urge visitors to provide family or friends with a detailed travel schedule, in case something goes wrong.

The Las Vegas woman told her family she had planned on camping in the southern portion of the park and visiting Scotty's Castle and Eureka Dunes at the northern end. It remains unclear, however, how she ended up on the obscure road in the southern portion, where her Jeep Cherokee became mired in the bottom of a gravel wash.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A view of Golden Canyon, below Zabriskie Point, in Death Valley National Park. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times