Death Valley: Rivers and Roads Till I Meet You (Part 1)

March 30, 2016

A few weeks ago I randomly got into a conversation on Instagram with a friend of a friend. He looked really fun and seemed to love adventure and the outdoors, so over a gorgeous photo of some hot springs in Bishop (that not very many people know about) a conversation was struck, and almost immediately after, plans were made leaving late the next evening after work, venturing  into the dark and the desert with a complete stranger on faith and good hope alone.

On Thursday night, I met Phillip (for the first time ever) in his driveway at 1030pm. I was nervous and excited. We had had a lovely chat about being serial killers the night before, so I hoped the banter would transcend the confines on my iPhone and that I wasn’t about to get into the car for a 5-hour drive and entire weekend with someone I didn’t get on with.

Fears were quickly swept away as we loaded his car with my stuff and we joked about how much food I brought and how random this all was.

Leaving around 11 we drove for hours into the dark, laughing non-stop. I told dad jokes and he nearly killed us a few times and it was perfect. Strangely enough, it wasn’t like we had just met, but like we had known each other for years. Natural. Comfortable. Strange, I know, but after letting go of wanting or needing someone else, here he was, in the driver seat of a Prius eating gummy worms and laughing at my lame jokes.

Anyway, we got to the campground around 3 in the morning and of course, the campsite was full, which was amazing because it gave us the excuse to climb up some rocks with our sleeping pads and bags and catch a few hours of sleep before the sunrise.

A few hours later we awoke to this fantastic view.  It had obviously been pitch black when we arrived, and I had never been to Death Valley before so I had no idea the level of beauty we would be waking up to.  It was like Christmas morning, but better. The hills transformed as the soft light danced amongst the ridges, changing the blues to purples and reds till finally the valley was filled with the warm yellow glow of morning.

We sat and watched for a while until we could see people beginning to stir in the campsite below.  Hoping to snag a spot for the night we wandered around the sleepy campsite till we met a nice older man packing up his car for the day’s adventure. Phillip asked him if he was staying the night and he replied that he was actually heading out and he let us set up camp. He was really nice, he told us all about the flora and fauna and when we got back to our site later that night he had left us a couple of guide books. Anyway, we paid for the site, and headed out for the day.

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The first stop on our list was Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft or 86m below sea level. Apparently the salt flats were kind of unique that day because the valley had received a lot of rain and had actually flooded not too long back, so the classic hexagonal shapes were not as defined as they typically are. It was amazing none the less. Feeling like you are surrounded by snow even though you are in the middle of the desert. Amazing.  We took a walk across the flats and took some photos, joking and laughing all the while.  At one point we were facing each other looking at a polaroid when the air between us became charged. We both knew the attraction was there, and perhaps a kiss would be possible, but the wind picked up and tossed the photo out of my hands sending Phillip gallantly running after it. The moment had passed, and we carried on.

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Driving further down the road we stopped at the Devils golf course, a more wild area of the flats where the salt rises out of the ground in a Dante worthy inferno of amazingness. With alpine views and the foreboding overcast of the incoming storm, we stood in awe of the fantasticalness of creation. It’s hard not to feel your own insignificance in places such as this. With depth and perception, we moved on.

IMG_2140Next, we drove up a rough dirt road, passing a slower trailer that was kicking up cloudy plumes of dirt, and parked at the head of the natural bridge canyon trailhead.
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Walking the short canyon path we quickly reached the natural bridge and without hesitation scrambled up to see if we could walk across. Appreciating the natural formation and all it loveliness, I had to wonder, being so small and momentary against something so timeworn and unremitting, that maybe David did indeed love Goliath, and the two might exist together in peace.IMG_2200

Onward we strode, through the valley of yellow flowers left over from the super bloom, a normally desolate backdrop freckled with burning flashes of colors.  Pulling over on the side of the highway, Phillip stopped the car to get a shot of the mountain. I sat childlike in the car, feet slung out the door watching him scamper across the rocks then leap into the air and landing on a boulder, thinking how much I love how nature is a beautiful kind of neverland, turning adults back into children, fearless and carefree. IMG_2116

By midday it was getting hot, even with the cloud cover and our walk around artist palette was cut short because of the impending rain. after climbing one of the closer rock formation, we decided we were ready to eat, relax and cool off.  So back to our campsite we went. IMG_2143

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I made burgers with bacon and cheese inside, fighting the wind and a stove that kept blowing out. we ate and drank some beers and talked, but not like strangers who had just met, rather like kindred spirits comfortable in old familiarity. We decided it was too hot to nap and too early in the day to settle down. So off we went in search of water. After walking like dirtbags into a posh hotel and being politely told that we cold use the ‘other’ pool, we made our way down to the Ranch at Furnace Creek, paid for a pass, and quickly immersed ourselves in the cold surrender of the pool. The ranch itself was pretty cool, something out of an old vacation movie. The sky added to the mood of the place, greying darker and darker as the hot wind picked up, swirling around the palms and blowing towels off lawn chairs. It was like being outside of reality, the whole trip thus far had been in fact. Perfect in every way. A simple happiness. We frolicked in the pool for a while me being silly swimming circles around Phillip while he tried to play it cool, being nonchalant in the presence of mischevious motives. The rain eventually came, but not before drying off and buying ice cream from the little gift shop, Phillip forgetting his wallet for the second time that day with the same cashier. When the rain did come we decided it was best to get back to camp for the night. With perfect timing, we made it to the tent as the rain started falling in heavy, fresh smelling drops to the ground. Laying side by side in the tent we listened to the Beatles and the light sound of rain pattering against the canvas of the tent. Finally, he kissed me, soft and sweet before we drifted to sleep, John’s comparisons of Prudence’s beauty floating through the empty space of the tent and our minds.

Click HERE for part 2.

Erica
More about Erica

Californian living in the UK. Erica is currently pursuing her PhD in Historical Geography at the University of Sussex. She is a writer and a researcher, a dirtbag and an explorer. Heart of the Nomad is her creative space to contemplate the complexities of life and share pictures and videos from adventures.