Death Valley pt 1

17. October 2016
I put all the wood on the fire the next morning. It was by far the coldest, and it was a silver lining to know we were headed south and to lower elevations. While taking the tent down we discovered a nasty insect. It looked like an enlarged ant mixed with a wasp, and it was all pale in colour. It also made us glad we were evacuating the site after some oatmeal and tea. (We later found out it was called a potato bug – it was really nasty).

The drive took us to Death Valley just in time for sunset. We happened upon Zabriskie point at just the right time, and we stood gasping at the weirdness that is Death Valley. The hills were not unlike those on the drive down to King’s Canyon in shape; all soft curves, all triangular. But these were strange mixtures of beige and darker brown. It looked almost like chocolate vanilla swirly cake, and nothing I’ve ever seen remotely reminded me of this. The whole ride into the park we had stared at the side of the road saying: what is this, where did we take a wrong turn and why are we on Venus? Zabriskie point enhanced this my far, and the crowd that gathered for sunset echoed our own thoughts.

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The dark descended in a slow but steady pace, and the final light was out before we found a campsite. We opted with one that came with pool access and wifi. It was great: the campground was located maybe a 300 metre from the registration office, yet the wifi worked on the campsite. We were amazed, and for some time deeply distracted. Perhaps me more so than Kelsey. We had bought chicken to cook fajitas on the stove – we needed no fires in Death Valley. It was nice to make a proper meal, instead of following up with soups and noodles. I think our three neighbours from Seqouia inspired us to do something a little more sophisticated, even if that stretched no further than to cook meat. It tasted nice, however, and prepared us for a good night’s sleep.

We had set the tent up without the canvas, so it was nice and breezy while also keeping potential visitors such as rattlesnakes, black widows and scorpions outside. I went to bed wearing short and a t-shirt, and left my sleeping bag unzipped. The ground was gravel, which felt a little uncomfortable, but compared to freezing at night we did not complain about it for long. Even the winds that came later were welcomed. Above us an almost full moon shone plenty of light, and nothing dangerous seemed to lurch in the shadows – it was a good night for sleeping.

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18. October 2016
We woke bright and really, really early. We decided, or rather I decided, to be real explorers, real livsnytere (this is a great Norwegian word, means ‘enjoyers of life’) and, more importantly, get those sunrise shots. So we were up and driving to the lowest point in the USA for sunrise at 7. Not that early, really, since it was sunrise, but anything before 9AM is early enough.

We arrived as one of three cars. Badwater Basin is 86 metres below sea level, and is aptly named for a lake with salty and bad water. In fall it dries up almost completely, leaving a salt plane that we walked onto. What’s fascinating about Badwater Basin is that on both sides there are towering mountains, and some of the mountains to the west reach over 3000m. It didn’t look that high at all, but it was strange to think that these massive mountains lay so close to the lowest point in the US. The salt itself was almost like walking on very fine sand right after a cold winter morning. It crackled here and there into little shapes that once used to be hexagonal, but now seemed arbitrary. This disappointed me a little, since I had looked forward to the hexagons, but the sunrise was so nice I didn’t mind all that much. The sunrise was more about watching the light slowly colour the sky pink, and then eventually the first light on the mountains, more than it was watching the sun actually come out. It offered an exquisite colour palette of pastel pink, blue and a white with a touch of silver. The sun rose beyond the eastern mountains, and it took a great deal of time for the sun to actually dip over the peaks. By then the sky was solid blue and the mountains all lit up. The moon also hung high in the sky still.

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Satisfied with the experience, and still not to the point where we felt tired yet, we decided to get some of the stuff out of the way. On our way back to camp and breakfast we checked off ‘Devil’s Golf Court’, which usually is this weird crystallised salt pinnacles that covers the ground, but now was just a crumbled mud, and ‘Nature bridge’, a spot in one of the park’s many canyons where a sort of bridge structure has formed naturally into a bridge over the canyon. It took us through a short hike, so it was close to 9AM by the time we were back on camp to cook pancakes for breakfast. By then I was significantly hungry, and the temperature was significantly higher. I began to feel really, really warm.

We went to the Visitor Centre and made a plan for the next few days. We realised we were in no rush, so we had time to go to the pool. And (and this is an important side note) we had time to shower. So we brought our books and went to the pool. Already we were feeling that the campground of our choice was the best option, and two hours by the pool confirmed that. The water was warm, but refreshing. There were beach beds there which felt amazingly comfortable after a night on gravel. I read two chapters and had a nap. After some relaxation and a wash, we felt much better, even though the temperature was still way too warm for my comfort level.

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We cooked veggie burgers for dinner, and made it real nice with toasted buns, spinach, tomatoes, caramelised onion and sauces we had brought from Jack in the Box.

As sunrise approached we drove to the Artist’s Drive, a paved road that takes you through a few kilometres of mountains and canyons where the dirt is coloured purple and green and blue and scarlet. This is caused by volcanic eruptions a really long time ago, and different minerals left in the dirt that gives them this colour palette. There is one specific point on this drive called the Artist’s palette, due to all the different hues. Almost at the very beginning of the drive we found a point where a lot of people were hanging around, and we assumed that was it. We got out of the car and took our pictures as the sun set. It was recommended to see in the afternoon light, because of how the sun reflects the colouring. And it was pretty amazing. To me it looked like a toddler’s drawing, a combination of different coloured splashed onto these weird hills of Death Valley. When the sun dipped beyond the mountains we drove onwards, and came to another point where the colours were even more varied and even more strange. We realised this was the real Artist’s Palette, and the sun had already gone down. I grumbled a bit, took some pictures but felt unsatisfied by our experience. We decided to come back again the next day.

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As we’d already eaten our dinner, we had some bagels with cream cheese and I sat down to write my journal. As the dark fully descended on us little nats came swarming towards the light and we gave up and went to bed.

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