LAS VEGAS — Death Valley National Park fell hit 120 degrees Sunday, and temperatures could hit 124 by Tuesday as a vicious heat wave envelops much of the Southwest.
Forecasters warned of excessive heat across southern portions of Arizona and Nevada, and throughout California’s Central Valley early this week, with temperatures passing 120 in some areas.
The high in Las Vegas neared 110 degrees Sunday and could reach 117 when the heat wave peaks by midweek. That would be the highest temperature ever recorded at McCarran International Airport since records began in 1937.
The National Weather Service in Phoenix said the last time the temperature topped 120 was 1995, at 121. It could happen again Tuesday. The record high is 122 degrees, set on June 26, 1990.
Desert dwellers in the western US generally regard temperatures topping 120 degrees as a reason to hunker down indoors and turn up the air conditioning. But some tourists welcome it as a rare opportunity to experience Death Valley — the hottest place in America.
Many will get their chance in the days ahead. Death Valley National Park, which straddles the California-Nevada line, is at the heart of the area affected by the sweltering heat.
‘‘There’s very few places on Earth to go to experience those temperatures and Death Valley is one of those,’’ said John Adair, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Business booms as temperatures soar in July and August at the Panamint Springs Resort, which is near the entrance of Death Valley National Park.
‘‘When it’s 120 to 125, there’s more customers,’’ said Mike Orozco, who works at the resort that includes a restaurant, gas station, campsites, and cabins.
Orozco said locals jokingly refer to the summer spike as ‘‘European season,’’ when a flood of tourists from Germany, France, Sweden, and other places arrive in Death Valley to experience heat unheard of in Europe.
‘‘Some people consider being out there in those conditions a kind of suffering. Other people can get a kind of euphoria, or a reward, out of it,’’ said Ed Carreon, a commercial photographer in Los Angeles who regularly visits the park and prefers the scorching summer months.
‘‘As a younger man, I would go out there to test myself’’ by hiking peaks in the Panamint Range under blazing sun in triple-digit temperatures with the barest of supplies, Carreon said. Now 58, he recognizes those broiling excursions as the folly of youth.
Phoenix resident Jennifer Vollmann said that with 121 degrees predicted Tuesday, she will be bringing her daughter to the public pool downtown. Vollmann sounded a note of optimism about temperatures moderating by the end of the week. “It'll be 110 soon,’’ she said.