Monday, May 7, 2018

Desert Trail: Death Valley

The elongated, swooping valley of Greenwater resembled what I would think another planet, or the moon but with color, would look like, maybe even an area like the Altiplano in South America. Although smaller in scale the curvature in every angle and tangent of this valley makes me feel so small. I relish in existence in these type of places. I diverted from the main wash and went up a gradual fan that was very grassy although burnt over by a plains fire. The scorched ground had skeletons of creosote roots and abandoned and hollow rabbit dens. I was surprised to see this type of desert--the high desert--from what I had been walkingly accustomed to so far. In Gold Valley, the sun angled over the high Panamints in the distant horizon gave a shimmering golden glow over the immense basin. Hidden from Badwater Basin, the Black Mountains plummet precipitously through a chaos of chasm from its peaceful island in the sky. A quiet was here I have not heard before, as if being sucked out from the gravity of the basin way down deep below. In Gold Valley I stood in a giant nest perched over the massive maw of Willow Creek chasm and the lowest point in the North America. The Panamints hearkened me from across the basin as proof.

I laid down to one of the best nights of my life, this whole stinking life...the lunar orb so full and resplendent creeping over a lonesome desert ridge, that most amazing blue again, a desert dusk blue; bright and big stars twinkling so nonchalantly, cool temps sunk to the valley floor, the chirping crickets echoing in the wash I bedded down in. I am invisible out here, no care for what the world really sees. It's all the basics: sleep, breathe, eat, drink, marvel. Eschew the herd, the horde of what everyone else does, the tribal shit, of what's the same and mundane; become invisible. No jokes, no lies...this is real. But what constitutes what's real in my life versus what's real in someone else's life? Nothing manifests itself from you to me. Maybe the other way around, but not that way. It's the essence of not ever even being here that matters. That moon creeps up over a lonesome desert ridge shining over whatever it always shines on until the phase of the goes black and delves into invisibility. We need that. Sink deep, then phase bright and back again, with no one around and become invisible. Get out into that immensity.

The picking up of the wind as I neared the mouth of Sheep Canyon whistled and I could imagine the wind having wings. The gorge was so steep and soft the last channels of the narrow gorge was like foot-punching down a gravelly dune or ramp. Plummeting nearly 5000ft of the lowest place in North America, Sheep Canyon had me dissecting the bones of a mountain, falling down the was weaving like the veins in a body, and within the narrows the marrow of our bones is nestled.

At the salt flats of Death Valley I began the arduous trek across the whole basin south to north. I spiral grass chute sprouted through a mud tile lifting and propping the tile on end showing the resilience of life. Small yet powerful, the birth of a water drop in harsh conditions, nurture with a sun ray, the beauty and the struggle for life. Then, the baking of the sprig, the impermanence of life, that precious beauty and harshness of existence. Among other textures of the salt flats different coloration, grains and layers, some parts affected by an isolated downpour, other tiles firm yet springingly soft, a give, exhibit the diversity of these massive mirrored and extremely flat surfaces. The crunch and coarseness of the planks and tiles, the random punch bowls sunk from thermal activity, the vastness and enormity and immensity of this place. Deeper than the Grand Canyon, the hottest place on Earth. The hardening of the mud, the evaporating and deconstruction of water and dirt, the sucking and squeezing out, the wringing out of brine. The pup fish who can live in these geothermal pools, the flies that bite, that fly in maelstroms like the ever-present dust devils. The blinding of eyes, the brightness. The dried and evaporated mud towers and the difficulty of walking through it and how the razor sharp and hard as stone mud towers shred your shoes. The dank and salty smell, the humidity after a downpour. This is it---Death fuckin' Valley.

Never change never change never change. Just endure time. The detritus of time, the constant and infinite grinding of rock and dirt to go from something enormous to something so microscopic as a speck of sand. Footprints are temporary. They disappear with the wind romantically like a fleeting and powerful love affair.

I walked from -282ft in the south to 8500ft on the white top summit of Last Chance Mountain in approximately 100m or more. I aged during this walk from the rubbing off of time scarred in the land and in the rock. Dunes to washes, to epic loneliness and incredible darkness of night, to giant stars and amazing sunsets and sunrises, to the heat, that squeezing heat sucking the life out of your brain demoralizing the spirit, the totality of the desert is----simply being.

As the temps soared I scaled up Last Chance Mountain following bighorn trails. I methodically paced it out to conserve my lack of water, although I sweated profusely leaving me a salt of desert, a mineral. I am a mineral after this, nothing more. Not flesh, rather salt-dried and cured. After the scramble across the crest I found myself at Willow Spring, the boundary of Death Valley National Park and the border with Nevada. A seep existed, water barely even noticeable, essentially dry, the dregs of of a spring. I turned and walked away containing my emotions. What am I after all besides containment? The deserts of Southern California and been dry, hot, and tough.


  1. Would the hike have been better if you started a month or two earlier? Looks like you were getting boiled out there.

  2. Didn’t mean to leave the last comment as anon. But I did!

    1. Definitely wish I could’ve started 3 weeks earlier. My work schedule ultimately dictated my start date with what I thought I could endure. But it was hotter than expected!