So Long, Lake Manly: Death Valley’s Short-Lived Lake Is Disappearing Again

If you were hoping to catch a glimpse of Death Valley’s ephemeral Lake Manly, it appears you’ve missed the boat – quite literally, as it turns out. With the help of some strong winds, the lake is packing up its watery bags and spreading out, making it so shallow that it’s now closed to boating. 

Badwater Basin’s temporary lake initially formed after in late August last year, after Hurricane Hilary brought heavy rainfall to the region. In the following months, as to be expected for the driest place in North America, the lake began to disappear.

Then, last month, it staged an unexpected comeback. An atmospheric river dumped 38 millimeters (1.5 inches) of rain into Death Valley in just three days – it normally only gets 50 millimeters (2 inches) in a year. Some of that water drained into the basin, and lo and behold, Lake Manly’s death sentence was commuted.

Badwater Basin on July 5, 2023 (left), August 30, 2023 (center), and February 14, 2024, after the atmospheric river hit (right).
Image credit: Wanmei Liang, using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey

Thanks to that boost, the lake’s waters were deep enough that visitors were able to kayak on them. Sadly, that would only last for a few weeks. 

“[I]ntense winds from February 29 through March 2 blew the lake to the north, spreading it out, resulting in shallower water,” reads a statement from the Death Valley National Park Service, posted on March 4. “The lake is now too shallow and too far from the road to transport and launch watercraft without damaging the landscape. Therefore, it is now closed to boating.”

Depending on whether or not Death Valley sees any more significant weather events, park rangers anticipate that the remnants of the lake will be visible through April until it eventually disappears. However, visitors are being encouraged to stick to established pathways, as walking through the muddy salt flats left behind could leave the landscape filled with footprints that will remain visible until the basin next fills up.

Though it might be on its way out, credit where credit’s due – the latest iteration of Lake Manly has lasted a lot longer than many people expected. “Most of us thought the lake would be gone by October,” said Death Valley National Park ranger Abby Wines in a statement back in February. “We were shocked to see it still here after almost six months.”

Until next time, Lake Manly.

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