The World's Tallest Thermometer
Baker, CA · The Middle of Freakin' Nowhere
At night, you can't miss it. During the day, you just might want to — at least during the summer. But as I discovered, just because the sun goes down, that doesn't mean it's going to cool off.
As I sped over a ridge, Baker (get it?) was an incandescent oasis, calling me to pull over and take a leak. The time was 9:55 p.m. as I pulled up to Bun Boy, the restaurant that shares its parking lot with the thermometer, and I prepared myself to step into the comfortable evening air.
I had been traveling to Vegas thus far with the air conditioner at a moderate setting, which was sufficient enough to cool me since there was no sun beating down on my car. But having forgotten that the AC was on at all, I opened my door and hopped out of the vehicle, completely unaware what a rush of heat was about to hit me...dry, dry heat. This time, it was not the humidity. The hair on my arms vanished in a wash of faint smoke. It was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. (For those of you used to Celsius, that translates to pretty freakin' hot.)
Now, don't get me wrong, I've lived in both northern and southwestern Texas most of my life; I know from hot. But this was like stepping out of a walk-in refrigerator and spontaneously combusting. And none of this was coming from the sun — this was all-natural, Death Valley oven heat.
But I guess that's the reason they built it here: the World's Tallest Thermometer, standing at 134 feet. It was erected at that specific height in memoriam to the hottest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley and, at the time of the heat wave, the hottest on Earth. Way back in 1913, the temperature climbed to 134 degrees — a record beaten only once and by only two degrees in El Azizia, Libya. I have no idea what poor sap was there to record it, but to that man I dedicate this page, for without him we would not have such a glorious monument.
Two days later, lucky for me, the temperature had dropped for my daylight drive home; it was a breezy 100 degrees. Stopping once again for a change of fluids, I asked the girl at Bun Boy's gift counter when they built this fascinating, but useful spire. I expected an informative monologue. What I got was, "Five years ago? Six years ago? Five or six years ago."
As is so often true, the locals lacked the proper appreciation for their town centerpiece. They don't seem to realize that they owe half their patronage to their objet d'art. I, for one, would not have stopped there had it not been for the thermometer. I mean, the whole desert is one big bathroom.
You Got the Temperature, Now Get the Time
Visited August 7 and 9, 1998