A hiker, identified as Douglas Branham, 68, of Tukwila, WA, has been found dead in Death
Valley National Park, on Wednesday, July 24.
Family members told authorities that Branham had planned to hike from Badwater to West
Side Road and back, a 12-mile round-trip hike across salt flats. He was supposed to fly home to
Tukwila on Tuesday, July 27 but missed his flight. On Wednesday morning, a concerned family
member called The Inn at Death Valley where he was staying, and a check of his room found
his belongings still there. Later, National Park Service rangers found his vehicle in the Badwater
The hiker is thought to have set off on Sunday or Monday in 118 degrees Fahrenheit heat with
up to 91 percent humidity due to scattered showers. To give readers some idea of how “hot”
that combination of extreme hot temperature and very high humidity “feels,” according to the
National Weather Service Heat Index Calculator, it is the equivalent to the body feeling the
temperature of 320˚F (160.4˚C).
Around 2:25 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24, a California Highway Patrol Helicopter H-82, found
Branham’s body about two miles from the closest road according to a joint statement issued
from the park and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office. At that time, the temperature was around
It was explained in the joint press release from NPS and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office that,
because it is hard for helicopters to fly in hot weather, “Helicopter rotors struggle to create
enough lift in hot air, and temperatures were about 115°F at the time. The helicopter landed
at Furnace Creek airport to off-load equipment to lighten the helicopter before returning with
a park ranger to recover his body.”
Inyo County Search and Rescue offers the following advice to hikers: If you’re hiking alone,
leave a detailed itinerary with someone who understands where you’re going and what you
plan to do. Give your emergency contact a reasonable timeframe for your return and explain
how to call for help if you’re significantly overdue.
The Inyo County coroner’s office is investigating the cause of his death.
The DVNP press release offered this advice to visitors: “Park rangers urge summer travelers to
visit Death Valley safely by hiking only before 10 am or at high elevations, drinking plenty of
water, eating snacks, and by staying close to an air-conditioned building or vehicle to cool
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