Editorial Notebook: In Death Valley, leave no trace - of fried eggs

Published: Friday, Jul. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 12, 2013 - 12:18 am

Can you really fry an egg with just the sun and a skillet?

A staffer at Death Valley National Park, the hottest place on earth, wanted to show people the answer. So she innocently posted a two-minute video that has since gone viral – 690,000 views on YouTube as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

Watch the video "Frying an egg Death Valley style"

You don't see her, but you can hear how earnest she is about educating park-goers. It's her third attempt, and this time she covers the pan, which has been out in the sun for a couple of hours, to stop moisture from evaporating. Six minutes later, with the ground temperature hovering near 128 degrees, the egg white starts to form.

"Look at our egg. Check it out," she says excitedly.

Almost as an aside, she says, "If you're going to try this in Death Valley, I highly recommend using a skillet because if you put it on the ground, it just makes a mess."

Add another one to the file of good intentions gone astray. The video started an unsightly trend when some park visitors ignored her advice and did their own experiments without a pan. They cracked open eggs on rocks and sidewalks and left a gooey, stinky mess.

Come on people, what happened to "leave no trace?"

Granted, there are much worse perils facing the nearly 1 million visitors a year to Death Valley National Park – like getting lost and running out of water. Still, park officials got rather annoyed. They complain that short-staffed maintenance crews had to clean up eggshells and empty cartons littering parking lots.

Spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman said the problem has died down as temperatures have cooled and after a plea on the park's Facebook page to keep the park clean, but the entire episode caused "heartburn."

"We'd rather be known for other things than frying eggs," she told me – like the celebration Wednesday marking the 100th anniversary of the world's highest recorded temperature, 134 degrees. Egg frying wasn't part of the festivities.

I confess the egg experiment is probably something I would have tried growing up when I was a science nerd reading the late, great Omni magazine, before physics and organic chemistry persuaded me to be a liberal arts major.

But I'd like to think I would have cleaned up after myself.

Our beautiful national parks – Glacier in Montana and Acadia in Maine, just to name two – are some of my favorite places in the entire world. On my hikes, it's always startling and sad when cigarette butts and fast food wrappers spoil the scenery. I don't know what I'd do if I ran across rotten eggs.

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