In this two-part series Nick Knowles adventures into one of the least hospitable places on earth: Death Valley in southwest USA. This is where the world’s highest temperature of 57˚ Celsius was recorded in 1913, and at 282 feet below sea level it is also one of the lowest spots on earth.
Nick travels from sky-high Dumont Dunes at the southern tip of Death Valley, through Zabriskie Point, with its magical vistas of the Valley, and the lush oasis at Furnace Creek on the way to the Salt Creek Trail.
It’s a scorcher in Death Valley as Nick takes to the adrenaline-pumping sport of sand buggy driving on Dumont Dunes, speeding up and down the vast sand hills. His companion, expert buggy driver Shane Trittler, is shocked but admires Nick’s daredevilry. Nick wants to see for himself how hard it is to survive here.
He meets up with survival expert Tom Coyne who once trekked 135 miles across Death Valley in summer, carrying no food or water. He shows Nick how to forage for food and find water, and how to make fire with a bowie knife, string and two pieces of wood, a notoriously tough task – is Nick up to the challenge?
Camping in the desert, Nick feels close to the landscape and a dawn he sets off for Zabriskie Point, one of the best viewpoints of the Valley as the light spreads across the craggy mountains, dunes, craters and salt flats. Mylar balloons are a problem in the Valley. Floating over from nearby Las Vegas or LA, they snare up power lines, causing fires, and pose a risk to wildlife.
One intrepid group of balloon vigilantes range across Death Valley recovering and disposing of them. Nick joins them for half day, astonished to see that they’ve gathered 92 balloons in the previous fortnight. Park ranger Matthew Lamar is a keen amateur astronomer.
Nick meets him to see one of the wonders of the Valley: the panorama of the night sky, with almost no light pollution, giving an unparalleled view of the planets and the Milky Way. He shows Nick incredible views of Saturn and Jupiter. In the middle of Death Valley is Furnace Creek, an oasis at the heart of this scorching, barren location.
Nick visits the lowest golf course in the world there. He meets Dan Forethorpe, a member of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe who have been residents in the Valley for thousands of years, and polishes off his visit with a round of golf, made extra tough by the low altitude.
Into Death Valley begins Sunday 19th March at 9pm on Channel 5.