Death Valley Summer: Hot Days and Hot Happenings

Hear the beautiful tones of a rarely played organ, at Scotty's Castle.

THERE ARE NO GIANT FRONT DOORS... on the highways leading into Death Valley, nor heavy iron gates on the roads that wend into the national park from various points. You don't have to ring a doorbell, nor leave a note in the mailbox, because the massive and mysterious and moon-like stretch of arid land is simply always there and always open. This may surprise a handful of people, who picture the park basically shuttering come summertime, but Death Valley doesn't lock any giant front door for the season, nor does it hang out the "come back in fall" sign. Instead, it welcomes visitors straight into triple-digits-temp time, June, July, and August, that lovely, seemingly languid stretch of year. But the desert isn't so very languid, even in the heat; on the contrary, Death Valley still brims with pleasures, from swimming at The Ranch at Furnace Creek to enjoying The Inn at Furnace Creek during its summer open time (the posh hotel reopens after its May closure for a short run, with limited services, in July and into August). But two of the summertime biggies in the vast valley couldn't be more different from each other, nor more interesting in scope and atmosphere. They both fascinate, in their distinct ways, with one involving the extreme outdoors and the other the cool, music-filled indoors of a famed historic home. We speak of the Badwater 135 race and the organ concert at Scotty's Castle, two hot-weather happenings that have become staples of the park's warmest period.

BADWATER 135: Where will you be at the end of July 2015? If you've entered "the world's toughest foot race," you'll be hoofing it from Furnace Creek to Mt. Whitney Portal, a climb of several thousand feet over three hard-running, long-running days. Even if you're not up for this particularly legendary push, you can bid the runners luck as they set off from Death Valley on July 28.

SCOTTY'S CASTLE ORGAN CONCERT: It's a striking piece in a striking landmark in a remote corner of the national park. We speak of the Welte-Mignon Organ inside Scotty's Castle, an instrument that is "played by human hands only once a year." The weekend falls in July, the 17th and 18th, to be exact, so if you'd like to hear a marvelous organ in the middle of a lonesome desert -- such atmospheric stuff -- get your tickets.

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