If someone had told me I could go kayaking in Death Valley as we drove through that barren desert one summer; the merciless August sun beating down on the tarmac ahead, I would have assumed they were starting to see a mirage. Boating in the desert?Strange things can happen in such an otherworldly place…
Today this National Park holds the record for the highest reliably recorded air temperature in the world but did you know an ancient freshwater lake once covered Death Valley? It was called Lake Manly, and around 20,000 years ago it was a as long as 130km 180 meters deep. In recent years, rare flooding has caused Lake Manly to reemerge, allowing some adventurous trekkers to become probably the only humans to kayak across Death Valley.
Local hiker Steve Hall was once of those few kayakers, who tested the waters of Lake Manly in 2010.
“After we went kayaking on the lake, we had an interesting experience as we were walking back to our vehicles. A tourist stopped by the side of the road to photograph us carrying our kayaks across the salt flats. She was snapping pictures for like 5 minutes and when we finally reached her location, she looked at us like we were crazy. She asked us if we were lost or knew where we were. She obviously thought we were insane for showing up in Death Valley to go kayaking.”
Besides these rare appearances, for the last 20,00 years since its evaporation to the surface, Lake Manly has essentially lived underground as one of the world’s largest aquifers– an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock (gravel, sand, or silt) from which groundwater can be extracted using a water well. The lake was named after William L. Manly who was among the original Death Valley party in 1849. Manly and a companion hiked out of Death Valley into the Greater Los Angeles Area, where he found help and returned to rescue his party.
It’s hard to believe, but Death Valley even has fish, notably one of the rarest species of fish in the world, descendants of fish that inhabited the ancient Manly Lake. Pupfish, which grow to just one-and-a-half inches long, live in a geothermal pool called the Devil’s Hole, where the only naturally occurring population of the endangered fish fluctuates between 100 and 200 in the winter and between 300 and 500 in the summer.
The miniature fish even made headlines this week when a group of drunken vandals broke into the gated habitat and went skinny dipping in the pool which resulted in the death of a tiny endangered Pupfish. The Los Angeles Times covered the bizarre story, which is how I would inevitably learn that once in a while, you can kayak in Death Valley.