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Published: October 24th 2016
Death Valley .... a place well named!
I think I commented towards the end of my last blog, that we were camped in a place that was to all intents and purposes a desert with a landscape the like of which I had never seen before. Well, as we drove into Death Valley the next day, I realised that to all intents and purposes, that last camp site was relatively "normal" by comparison. I have never seen a place so deserving of the name that has been bestowed upon it. And I would venture to suggest that even the label "desert" does not convey the truth about this landscape. I have also never encountered a "place" that so encouraged my imagination to take flight.
We spent just one night and two virtually full days travelling throught this Valley. By the end of that time, Greg and I both agreed that we had had "enough" and that even if it was not time to move on, we were ready to do so.
That said, it was in its own peculiar very harsh way, beautiful, and enjoyable. My imagination had no difficulty tasting the terror and hardship that we repeatedly read had plagued
the original and first "westerners" to try and either cross through, or live and work in this place.
Perhaps I should just revert to words again, because I think I lack the writing skills to accurately convey the harsh awsome beauty and reality of this place. Amazing. Breathtaking. Unbelievable landscapes and vistas. Dry. Hot. Hotter. Drier. Colourful. Unbelievably colourful. Vast. Open. Unsheltered. No shelter. No water. No greenery. Nothing to soften one's gaze. Harsh. Harsher. No life, at least very little visible life apart from the masses of tourists like us travelling through. Sterile. Barren. Devoid of nourishment for spirit and soul. Scary. And overlying our stay in this place was the constant drone and thunder from airforce fighter jets who obviously use the airspace over this barren place for training. Again, not hard to use one's imagination to transplant ones self into the valleys and hills of Iraq, Afgisthan and Iran where this terrifying sound portents death, destruction and terror.
The photos I have included will do better than my words. Notice the plains, valleys, hills, mountain ranges, canyon walls. They are devoid of all but the barest blade of grass or plant. Most of the animals that live
in the valley are nocturnal, this way they can avoid the blistering heat of the daylight hours. Not that the nights are much cooler, they are not. But at least the blazing sun is removed from the scene for a period of hours. I think I saw just three or four living creatures ... I caught a glimpse of what they call a kangaroo rat when we stopped for lunch on the first day. Later that day we saw several coyotes who were hanging close to the roadside presumably waiting to be fed by passing humans. It is illegal to feed the wildlife because obviously this will cause them to become dependent upon humans as a source of food and usually results in them being shot because they then become a hazard to said humans. Even so, we saw people throwing these coyotes food. In the campground that night, or the next morning, there was a small flock of black birds who again saw this place as a source of crumbs and scraps. But that was it. Even the ravens were missing.
The valley was first inhabited by westerners who, of course, sought to plunder its mineral riches. Gold apparently
yielded little return but borax was a profitable mining enterprise for many years and the remains of the borax works and the type of carriage that was used to drag the borax out of the valley by a team of twenty mules was on display for us to view. As with many western developmental enterprises throughout this (and many other) land, the chinese provided the labour force. Looking at the site where they had lived and slept and worked, it was only too easy to imagine the wretched lives they must have led.
The native indians have a very recent (comparitively) history of living off and passing through this place. Recent as in terms of the last 10,000 years only. Apart from reading small snipets of their experience however, we did not actually get to visit the place where their community still lives today.
The lowest point in Death Valley is Bad Water Basin which is some 289 feet below sea level. I think this must be the most well known and most used photographic images of Death Valley because it was what I had carried with me into this place and what I most wanted to see. Again, nothing
ever lives up to the expectations we carry with us to a destination. And this again proved to be true. I wanted to see the cracked and parched salt flats of those promotional photographs. But I did not. In my opinion, the salt flats have been diminished by the millions of tourists that step out onto them every year. The pathway those feet have trodden is wide, smooth and hot. To see the salt flats, or search for the place where that cracked and parched image might have been captured, you have to walk for kilometers in the blazing and oh so hot sun, even at this time of year, autumn/fall, the beginning of their "winter season". The Valley is so hot during the summer months that none of the tourist places or campgrounds are open, and the company that rented us our motorhome would not have insured us in any form to drive into or through the valley in that period.
The walk out onto the salt flats was quite daunting. We were quite determined to go the distance and find what we thought we would see beyond the place where most tourist feet might have stopped. But we
didn't make it. It must have been 40 degrees C out there. Oliver left his sunglasses in the motorhome, and was soon scurrying back on his own because he could not even see anything, so fierce was the glare.
Of course, the salt floor of this basin is never constantly the same, but changes from time to time. So what we saw might indeed be what there was to see at this moment in time.
As we walked back to the carpark I snapped a shot that will give you an idea of the distance involved, and the brightness and glare that engulfed us. And way up there on that hill/mountain, there is a tiny little sign (from where the photo was taken) that says "Sea Level".
As I write this blog, I am sitting under a tree in the Arizona morning sun just outside Grand Canyon. This place too is a desert. But its nothing compared to Death Valley. I will have more to say about the Grand Canyon in my next blog, which hopefully I will get written and published before I fly back home in just over a week's time. Today we are leaving the Grand Canyon
and heading into Utah to see the Bryce and Zion National Parks. Then it will be back to Vegas and before you can say anything, I will be back home.
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