October 12, 2009
We are in Death Valley. It is cool with dark clouds overhead, the sky rippled like the layers of rocks. The day began with breakfast and a nourishing drive past Mammoth and continuing enjoyment of the mountain range of the Sierra that John Muir called The Range of Light. We turned off 395 to drive up and up and up to 10,000 feet above sea level and the Antique Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees on earth. One tree is 4000 years old. It was cold as we hiked and we were alone with the rugged, rocky landscape and trees. We enjoyed looking across at the southernmost glaciers in the country. I wondered how long they will be there as the glaciers are so rapidly disappearing.
The Bristlecone Pines rise from white rock, dolomite. The white keeps the heat down by reflecting it out. Some of the cones are purple, like flowers or berries. There are also beautiful red rocks. It was hard to resist taking any but they are so perfectly adapted to their environment that I let them all stay. In the parking lot is a warning that marmots may eat the wires in the engine of your car. Our wires survived, unnibbled, untouched.
So far, on this trip, we’ve seen one Starbucks and that was in Bishop which is why we didn’t stop or stay there.
We continued down to Lone Pine where we thought of staying because the motels have wireless connection, but we continued along. Lone Pine offers views of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the country, and here in Death Valley we are at the lowest point in the Western hemisphere. There is no internet or cell phone access. Odd, isn’t it? We will be here two nights, three days, with no way to connect other than a land line which we ignore. Perhaps that is why the air feels so free and clear.
It has been cool all day and the clouds have not brought rain, but only beauty that reflects in the rocks. We are enchanted. I am reminded of New Mexico, the self-proclaimed and well-deserved Land of Enchantment. This compares. We’ve gone up, down, up, down, up, down. I somehow thought Death Valley was dry, boring, and desolate, but instead, it is exquisite.
We are entranced with mirages, which we are sure must be water, but, each time on approach, are sand. How disappointing it must be to those who are on foot and in caravan. The sand appears, caught in a mirror image of a sky that sparkles and lifts. The park is huge, with 3.3 million acres. It is unseasonably cool, so, at altitude today was 57 degrees at 3 in the afternoon. Of course, there can be a twenty degree difference in temperature between up and down.
This side of the Sierra appears to be Indian land, so it feels symbolic on Columbus Day to honor the different tribes as we drive through and see their names. This was not Death Valley to the natives. They were able to survive here just fine and still do.
As a closed environment with nothing to spare, Death Valley is environmentally aware. Recycling is available in the motel room. The soap is ergonomically shaped with a hole in the middle, designed “to eliminate the unused center of traditional soap bars.” We are settled in, awaiting the stars.