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Kayakers paddle in Death Valley after rains replenish lake in one of Earth鈥檚 driest spots

Kayakers have been paddling in one of the driest places on Earth after a series of storms battered California鈥檚 Death Valley and replenished Lake Manly. (Feb. 23)

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DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) 鈥 Kayakers have been paddling in one of the driest places on Earth after a series of record rainstorms battered California鈥檚 Death Valley and replenished Lake Manly.

Park Ranger Nichole Andler said Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park, which runs along part of central California鈥檚 border with Nevada, 鈥渋s normally a very beautiful, bright white salt flat.鈥

This year it is a lake.

In the past six months, Death Valley has received more than double its annual rainfall amount, recording more than 4.9 inches (12.45 centimeters) compared to a typical year that gets about 2 inches (5.08 centimeters). Temperatures at or above 130 F (54.44 C) have only been recorded on Earth a handful of times, mostly in Death Valley.

Vinaya Vijay, right, and Vijay Parthasarathy wade through water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Vinaya Vijay, right, and Vijay Parthasarathy wade through water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet (85.95 meters) below sea level and has been a favored spot for tourists to take selfies and briefly walk along the white salt flats ringed by sandy-colored mountains.

鈥淚t鈥檚 the lowest point, in North America. So it鈥檚 going to collect water, but to have as much water as we have now 鈥 and for it to be as deep and lasting as long as it has 鈥 this is extremely uncommon,鈥 Andler said. 鈥淚f it鈥檚 not once-in-a-lifetime, it鈥檚 nearly.鈥

Andler said kayakers should come soon since water levels are expected to drop in a matter of weeks, though the lake 鈥渨ill probably be here into April. If we鈥檙e lucky, May. And then it鈥檒l be a muddy, wet mess, and then it鈥檒l dry out into those gorgeous white salt flats.鈥

A paddle boarder paddles through water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)

A paddle boarder paddles through water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)

On Thursday, Heather Gang of Pahrump, Nevada, and her husband, Bob, were among hundreds of visitors playing in the water. Most waded into the lake, though the couple and others paddled where the water reached up to about a foot (0.3 meters) deep in parts.

鈥淚t鈥檚 a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kayak Lake Manley,鈥 Heather Gang said.

It was a sharp contrast to the Death Valley of the past where they figured they had once stood around the same spot and looked at the chalky salt flats for as far as the eye could see.

The couple has been eyeing the lake鈥檚 evolution ever since last year鈥檚 storms started filling the lake. In the fall, they drove out to see it re-emerge as a lake but they said it wasn鈥檛 deep enough for kayaks like now. This time the water reached up to the boardwalk.

The lake, which is currently about six miles (9.66 kilometers) long and three miles (4.83 kilometers) wide, is still nowhere near its original state thousands of years ago after it formed during the Ice Age and covered a significant part of the park and was several hundred feet deep.

People wade through water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People wade through water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Snow capped mountains are reflected in water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Snow capped mountains are reflected in water at Badwater Basin, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The basin, normally a salt flat, has filled from rain over the past few months. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Bob Gang said he had heard the lake had filled up to the point that boaters could go on it about 20 years ago, so he didn鈥檛 want to miss out on the experience this time.

鈥淚t鈥檚 a lot of fun,鈥 said Bob Gang, who gave a girl a ride on his kayak. 鈥淚t鈥檚 good to see the little kids out here enjoying this and seeing something totally unique.鈥

It could be another 20 years before boaters return, he added, but 鈥渨ith climate change, who knows, maybe this will be the normal.鈥

Guo Yu, an assistant research professor of hydrometeorology at the Nevada-based Desert Research Institute, said the lake鈥檚 size is a 鈥渟imple natural phenomenon.鈥

It鈥檚 linked to a wet winter from a strong El Nino 鈥 a natural and occasional warming of part of the Pacific Ocean that can lead to more precipitation than usual in California 鈥 plus climate change, which brings more intense atmospheric rivers to the area more frequently, Yu said.

Scientists need to study Lake Manly now, he said, to see if they can harness the water for other uses in the future, such as drinking water throughout the dry Southwest.

Tiffany Pereira, an associate research scientist at the institute, said the lake鈥檚 size now can be beneficial to local flora and fauna.

Certain seed species endemic to the area, meaning they only naturally exist in Death Valley, have lain dormant for a decade or more and are now beginning their short-lived life cycle because there is enough water to sustain them.

鈥淭hey hang out, they do their thing, and as soon as it dries up, that鈥檚 it. They鈥檙e done,鈥 she said.

For now, friends Trudell Artiglere and Sheri Dee Hopper of Las Vegas will enjoy paddling through the lake. At the end of the day on Thursday, Artiglere said, their salt-encrusted kayaks looked like 鈥済lazed donuts.鈥

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed.

Dazio covers crime and criminal justice in California for 老澳门六合彩, with a focus on Los Angeles.