DEATH VALLEY, Calif. (KLAS) — A deceased hiker was found nearly two miles from Death Valley National Park’s closest road on Wednesday. A California Highway Patrol helicopter made the discovery around 2:25 p.m. when temperatures were as high as 115 degrees.
The 68-year-old man was identified as Douglas Branham. His family says he planned to hike a 12-mile round-trip across the salt flats, from Badwater to West Side Road and back.
A family member called The Inn at Death Valley Wednesday morning after Branham missed his flight home to Tukwila, Washington, on Tuesday. They discovered his belongings were still in his room, and National Park Service (NPS) rangers found his vehicle at Badwater parking lot.
According to the NPS, before recovering the hiker’s body, the helicopter had to off-load equipment at Furnace Creek airport due to the heat. They returned with a park ranger.
When Branham started his hike, which NPS says was either Sunday or Monday, temperatures in the area reached up to 118 degrees. Humidity was said to be as high as 91%.
The Inyo County Coroner’s Office is investigating his cause of death.
Summer visitors are urged to hike in Death Valley only before 10 a.m. or at high elevations. Park rangers also encourage the public to stay hydrated, eat snacks and stay close to air-conditioned buildings or vehicles.