Friday, May 23, 2008

Death Valley

Barstow. The name, the place, lackluster as it is, has a gleam in my imagination. Growing up in Los Angeles, most any trip took us under freeway signs where Barstow was one of the directional destinations. It meant we were going, it was probably summer, it was the month, or near the month, where it is catatonically hot, the blessed, blissful stupor of the desert summer heat.

There were caravans of weekenders. A string of Honda two-seaters, like gnats, or maybe lap dogs, piloted by erstwhile Asian car gang members. A sprinkling of Harleys. And a pair of vintage RVs: square windows in a gently curved body, diminutive round headlights, coppery metallic paint jobs and crisp chrome arcs. They were beautiful. An overgrown race in general, these I had to admire, pristine proud and reasonably sized.

Sedans stretching in the late morning sun. Polished chrome and ultra buffed quarter panels, you could feel how soft that wax was over the lustrous paint. All dressed up, these cars. It took me a while to remember it was Friday (unemployment does that to ya'), and then it dawned on me. Of course - putting on their finest, these folks, and going to Las Vegas. Shiny cars attract shiny coins, or so the logic seemed to go.

Death Valley, I'd read not a month before in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, got it's name in the gold rush days. One in a group of the pioneers bound for California died in the valley after the group had been stuck there, unable to find the pass. One of the women, as they were finally leaving, bid the place adieu and christened it so.

The colors on the hillsides as we got into the valley seemed explosive after the tight-fisted tones of the desert flats. The plain rises like fabric before the mountains, where a skim of green is diluted by the haze of distance. Scrubby cover, this shade is shown off by the rising angle of the land, where it disappears in the flats, in the huge sandy gaps between plants. Magic carpet, an inept descriptor.

We went to the Borax works in the late late late afternoon sunshine. The sun shone on the Funeral Mountains until it reluctantly ducked behind the Panamints.

The moon is full, just about. We met a crow near the campsite. A woman, middle aged, camped quietly by herself in the site next to us, her tent crouched in the shade the mesquite shrubs would offer. I just love the peace and quiet.

Common knowledge has it, from many I spoke to before the trip, that women who camp by themselves are being recklessly unsafe. I deduce from the fact that this woman is speaking to me, and that she's implied this is a repeat trip to the valley, that she has escaped harm's way. (What would the Madonna of the Trail think of our timidity?)

After a period of sinus pressure where I thought my face would explode (perhaps it was just a good old fashioned dose of dehydration) I feel blessedly tired and content. It's warm enough to sleep comfortably in the tent in shirtsleeves. Warm enough that I do not dread getting out of the tent in the middle of the night, shuffling over the mudcracked earth and, under a bright bright moon, watering the mesquite.

Our camp is quiet, coyotes howling at dinnertime, at some distance, a roar of generators, is all.

No comments:

Post a Comment