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Kayakers flock to Death Valley after severe rain creates ‘extremely rare’ lake

<span>Kayaking at Badwater Basin earlier in February.</span><span>Photograph: Michael Kohler/NPS</span>
Kayaking at Badwater Basin earlier in February.Photograph: Michael Kohler/NPS

The rains that soaked California in recent weeks have created an unusual opportunity for kayaking in the driest place in the US.

Visitors at Death Valley national park have a rare chance for aquatic recreation in a temporary lake that formed in Badwater Basin, the National Park Service said in a statement.

“You might think with no drain to the sea, that Death Valley would always have a lake,” Abby Wines, a park ranger, said. “But this is an extremely rare event. Normally the amount of water flowing in is much less than the evaporation rate.”

The desert park is famously hot and dry, often exceeding 110F (43.3C) in the summer and averaging only about 2in (5cm) of rain annually. But Death Valley has received an exceptional amount of precipitation in the last six months, 4.9in (12.4cm), thanks in part to a record-breaking tropical storm that brought a year’s worth of rain in just a day.

Further precipitation from an atmospheric river this month helped fill the temporary lake in what is typically a dry salt flat.

Badwater Basin, which is the lowest elevation in North America at 282ft below sea level, was once home to an ancient body of water – Lake Manly – that evaporated tens of thousands of years ago.

The body of water in the basin today, also known as Lake Manly, is now about a foot deep and stretches three miles wide and about six miles long. Posts on social media showed visitors floating on the ephemeral expanse.

The park service said it could only be deep enough for kayaking for a few weeks, but will offer “beautiful reflections” through April.

“The lake was deep enough to kayak for a few weeks after Hurricane Hilary, but unfortunately people couldn’t come enjoy it then,” Wines said. “Every road in the park was damaged by flash floods, and it took two months to open the first road into the park. Now most of the main roads are open, so it’s a great time to come visit!”

The park reopened in October after closing in August after the rains from the storm washed away roadways and caused widespread damage. The park’s hotels and most campgrounds are open as are paved roads to park features such as Lake Manly, but work continues on secondary roads damaged by floods, the park service said.