It was early evening when we began our final descent along the winding road of red. As the relative lushness of the hills began to dissolve to dust the grandeur of the valley ahead opened up. Before us lay the magnificence of land both desolate and mesmerizing, a land that has an effect as much through feeling as it does through sight.
With daylight succumbing shortly to twilight we were fortunate to witness both. The desert, in contrast to its name, feels very much alive. Not through vegetation or wildlife but through its ability in assuring your insignificance and fragility. A balancing act on the razor-sharp edge of maintaining survival; not its own but yours and anything else that treks within its confines.
It is a living breathing cosmos; to assume Death Valley as anything else would be a huge mistake and one that could easily be assigned a hefty tax.
With daylight we were afforded the opportunity to see the desert stretch out far in front of us until it melted into a mirage of its own creation. The heat, baking the valley floor, was visible as it rose and faded; dissolving into the cool 110 degree layer that rested a few meters above ground.
By twilight an eerie glow of fiery orange hovered over the valley like some kind of other worldly halo. It was like the sun had drifted closer and the burning of earth was about to begin.
The appropriately named Stovepipe Inn was at the base of our descent. A room was waiting for us, so was a meal…and so was a pool. The latter was our immediate destination. There is nothing more relieving than submerging in cool water when the ground temperature hovers above 115 degrees.
From the pool, mountains that surround the valley rise as one of the most picturesque backdrops; glowing and shimmering with escaping heat, buckled and magnificent as a geological overlord.
With the dark of night came the stars…millions upon millions of stars.
Drying almost immediately as we vacated the water it was time for bed. Time to return to our room and battle the balance of air-con / no air-con; trying to find that perfect temperature that will keep us sleeping soundly and comfortable.
It was not to be the case.
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We had noticed earlier, small black spots on the ceiling. We knew they were bugs but figured they had flown in when we had unloaded our bags and briefly left the door open. Like other small flying insects they were attracted to the light but when that was shut off they, like us, would slumber.
Instead, when we slept they flew; like kamikaze pilots.
All through the night and into the wee hours we were bombed by the pissed off. They made our faces the target. Lips, eyelids, nostrils, ears; all places they practiced landing and taking off from. Crawling into, hovering above, and skimming over so just enough of their bodies would create an itch or a tickle and send us into spasms of battling an enemy cloaked by darkness.
Having a bug crawl over your lips and up your nose while you are sleeping creates an amazingly comedic reaction of flailing arms and legs, coupled with exhaustive outward gasps and fake spitting .
After taking temporary and unsuccessful shelter under the sheets we attempted to outsmart them. Figuring it was light they were seeking we turned on the one in the bathroom and left the door open…we provided easy access. The bugs began to migrate.
No sooner had we fallen asleep than the more renegade of the bunch, realizing the opportunities that lay beyond the light, once again formed a facial assault. After a few hours bodies of the dead lay strewn around the room and on the white sheets and pillow cases of our bed. There was no victor in this battle but our airborne assailants paid a heavy price…as did we.
Not a moment of sleep was had. Our lips were constantly itchy as the memory of tiny feet marching across them remained in our sub-conscious. Nostrils needed blowing, eyelids and ears needed a scrub down. As I write this my body has once again begun to itch solely from the memory.
We showered and were up dressed and ready to go before sun up. The sympathetic folks at the office informed us there had been a recent infestation of box beetles.
Why had you not mentioned this earlier?
But I am confused. Box Beetles, according to Wikipedia, are found primarily on maple and ashtrees. There are no trees nearby…ITS DEATH VALLEY! Wikipedea goes on to say that these bugs will release a pungent and bad-tasting compound upon being disturbed…ugh!
They either weren’t box beetles or they did not feel sufficiently disturbed and felt their actions to be more in line with a fun night out messing with tourists. As I said…confused.
The good news.
Rising early, no matter what caused that to happen, allowed us to arrive at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in time to watch the sun crest the horizon; washing rays of light across the miles of sand. Even though we were not entirely alone we trekked in further than most to where footsteps disappeared and virgin dunes awaited.
We spent hours in this wind-swept fortress and could have stayed longer had the heat not risen dramatically and forced us out. We were advised the desert floor was no place to be after 10am.
Our drive through Death Valley took us to many of the big attractions. Mustard and Golden Canyons, Artists Palette, Devil’s Golf course, Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, and Badwater Basin, water is undrinkable, which lies 282 feet below sea level and is the lowest point in North America. By contrast, the highest point in the US is Mount Whitney and that is just 84 miles to the north-west.
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Death Valley is a marvel and an enigma. It is a desert that lies directly to the east of the lush Sequoia National park, to the west of Las Vegas, and is surrounded by mountains upon which snow falls. It is the hottest and lowest part of the United States yet has peaks that reach 11,000 feet. It contains plants and animals that, through evolutionary adaptations, can only be found in the valley; nowhere else in the world.
Death Valley is 3.4 million acres and as such has one of the largest expanses of protected warm desert in the world.
The journey through Death Valley ranks second to none, that’s how impressive it is.