Box Beetles of Death Valley

Red RoadIt 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.

Click on any image to scroll through at full size.

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.

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28 thoughts on “Box Beetles of Death Valley

  1. I can only imagine the kind of stars you saw at night in the desert.
    As for those beetles, they remind me of June bugs, they too fly right into you at night. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  2. Those pictures of Death Valley look nice. I would have been pissed about the bugs. I would have asked the hotel for a discount or a refund. That could not have been fun fighting them all night.

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  3. One of my favorite parts of being in California is sweating on a really hot day, and then looking in the distance and seeing snow capped mountains.

    Your bug story sent shivers down my spine. I think after an hour of that, I would be back in my car and out of death valley.

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  4. What a stunning vista! Phenomenal pictures. I had to skip reading your description of the beetles, it was too vivid! And how ironic that such a spectacularly beautiful landscape can be so deadly. Mother Nature at her finest …

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  5. You have an excellent writing style. Do you have a book or two in mind?

    I would have been itching like crazy! I am surprised that you even managed to sleep at all.

    I will not be adding Death Valley to my list. I must say – the photographs are beautiful.

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  6. I’m itching just thinking about those bugs! Beautiful photographs – as always – Tim, but I gotta admit once again you are a far more intrepid traveler than I will ever be. For one thing I don’t like the heat – weird huh considering I live on a tropical Island. Anyway, I’m grateful that you give us the opportunity to taste these adventures through you!

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    1. I know that even on Maui it can get cold if you live on the mountain. For me, I love the heat. I lived in Chicago long enough to rid myself of any desire for the cold.

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    1. That night made the whole trip seem even longer than it was as we had to get on the road so much earlier than we anticipated. It all worked out for the best 🙂

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  7. Oh you’ve captured the whole bug annoyance sensation quite well. My worst insect encounter was the first time I went for a bike ride in the Everglades. I had not put on any bug spray. I did not know any better. Things went well enough until I stopped to take a look at something or other. I looked down and was covered head to toe with bloodsuckers all over the place. I’ve never itched so badly before or since.

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  8. Great images, as usual, Tim. I’m scratching just reading about the beetles. Many years ago I was vacationing on Nantucket Island and a group of us decided to sail to an island for lunch. Little did I know that it was infested with mosquitoes, which I’m very allergic to. I spent several hours in the ocean up to my neck to escape while my friends had their lunch!

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  9. Hi Tim; well i missed reading your wonderful travel posts and luckily i returned back to the community to get two in one day. i can almost picture the grander and varied vistas you traveled through during this visit. and even with the insects i can say I almost want to visit there because of your post. we have these bugs in texas they call love bugs. they are a flying insect with a tough hard shell to them. they sting if they catch you and they are next to impossible to get off of your vehicle. one summer we were working our carnival rides at a festival called the luv ya blue fest in honor of the houston oilers football team. we had a infestation of those bugs. us kids finally got some relief by borrowing the fan off of the bounce house and having it blow the bugs off of us. this was one of the old fashioned bounce houses in the shape of a clown’s head and the fan was many times more powerful than what they use now days. we were so happy to get some rest from them. hate to even think about bugs crawling on me while sleeping. best of luck on your next adventure. take care out there my friend, max

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  10. Those miserable creatures provided a great story, Tim. Death Valley is not so far from us in SoCal, yet I will perhaps rely on your vivid and simultaneously painful and poetic sensations here, at least until Box Beetle season concludes…

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  11. Spectacular photos…only surpassed by the even grander narrative…where is the book Tim? Where? Laugh! Sorry, I would have been sleeping on a raft in the pool, or in the trunk of the car the minute I felt the patter of box beetle feet across my face! Horrifying!!!! That said, what a spectacular trip!

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    1. Where we stayed was pretty much the only place to stay; except outside but then you run the risk of attracting other critters that may do more than want to disrupt your sleep. It all worked out perfectly.

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