Extreme Tourists Seek the Heat

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At this point, most of us are eager to escape the summer heat.

We'll endure it long enough to snap a selfie, maybe at Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but we never stray too far from the air conditioning, hopefully set to full blast.

And then there are the Heat Tourists.

To them, high season is wherever the thermometer is highest.

Death Valley is the lowest, driest, hottest spot in North America. It holds the record for the hottest air temperature ever recorded on Earth -- 136 degrees --a record unbroken for a century.

In August and September, when Europe is crowded with American tourists, Death Valley is packed with Europeans.

This year, for the first time, the National Park Service found it necessary to produce an instructional video for tourists: how to fry an egg in a skillet that's been out in the sun.

“Every summer somebody tries frying an egg out there, but nothing like the volume we've seen this year,” said Terry Baldino, a park ranger. “Just think of having hot, gooey eggs in your house. It gets kind of gross when you consider the number of people trying to cook out here.”

Death Valley -- as hot as it is -- is just the appetizer for Heat Tourists. True heat connoisseurs head to The Wave.

It’s a spectacular stretch of Navajo Sandstone dating all the way back to the dinosaurs, right in the middle of the Arizona desert. Water and shade are in short supply on the arduous, 6-mile round-trip hike over uneven terrain. It looks like you've landed on Mars.

But it can be deadly. This summer alone, three people died hiking The Wave. An elderly California couple was overcome by the heat during the Fourth of July weekend. And a 27-year-old Arizona woman who visited to celebrate her fifth anniversary, suffered a heart attack brought on by heat exhaustion.

The Wave may well be America's most exclusive national park. Last year, 48,000 people applied for just 7,300 day permits. Nearly 5 out of 6 visitors were turned away.

Just showing up is no guarantee you'll get in. The park rangers grant just 20 permits a day. Half of them are snapped up months in advance. The other half is chosen by lottery among the people who apply on the spot.

“I don't know of anywhere else in the world that has this kind of undulating slick rock,” said Rachel Tueller of the Bureau of Land Management. “The swirling sandstone that looks like a petrified rainbow. It's pretty spectacular.”

Maybe the heat tourists – with their extreme summer vacations -- are onto something.