In the Valley of Death: Death Valley National Park

When describing a desolate landscape, it’s always best to start with the names people have applied to it: Death Valley, Badwater, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Dante’s View, Hell’s Gate, the Devil’s Golf Course.  Pictures say something about the surface of the land.  Names tell its story and speak to relationships between the place and the people who have lived and died in its environs.

Nothing about Death Valley is hospitable, yet it is one of my favorite places on earth.  Scorching hot during the summer, cold and windy during winter, always dry, on a scale that shrinks one to nonexistence—Death Valley neither needs nor asks for an audience, yet people flock to it by the thousands every year.   Yosemite and Yellowstone seem vain by comparison.  Their waterfalls roar.  Their fertile green meadows beckon.  These parks speak the language of life.  Life courses through Death Valley, too, but the desert makes no show of it.  It doesn’t care to do so.  Death Valley neither invites nor rejects onlookers.  It is content with simply being.

At dawn the sun throws a sliver of orange light on sharp mountain ridges a hundred miles to the west.  A sea of black shadows recedes, revealing still more orange ridges, each one closer than the last, so that it’s as if a tsunami of light were rushing across the landscape, pulverizing the last remnants of darkest night until it spills into a valley more than one hundred miles long.  The new light settles on undulating sand dunes and blinding white salt pans that sink hundreds of feet below sea level.  It’s as if God were leafing through a photo album of creation and happened to turn to the page that includes you.

Dante's View. From here you can see mountains that are two hundred miles away.

From Aguereberry Point, almost 7,000 ft above the valley.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

From Augereberry Point

From near Aguereberry Point

Old gold mining operation.

That's my dad.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Family of three forming a nice triangle.

Photographer at work at Dante's View.

From Dante's View. You can see about one hundred miles down the valley from here. The most distant mountains are about two hundred miles away. The valley itself is over a mile below.

From Aguereberry Point.

From Aguereberry Point.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at dawn.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at dawn.

Photographers at Zabriskie Point.

Near Zabriskie Point.

Badwater, the lowest point in North America (282 ft. below sea level).

National Parks Cure Melancholy

I don’t have a long, polished post in me for this weekend, so instead of writing something I’m going to share some pictures of national parks.  Over time I would like to profile each park I’ve been to, but for now pictures will suffice.  Whenever I’m sad or just plain grumpy, if I think of the leaping waterfalls of Yosemite, the sublime emptiness of Death Valley, or the convoluted chasms of the Grand Canyon, usually I feel a little better.  I’ll be back next week.  Have a good weekend.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation (not a national park, but it protects sacred beauty in the same way)

Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley, Alaska

Redwood National Park, California

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park, California, looking down Tenaya Canyon from atop Half Dome (taken with a film camera in 2001)

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Arches National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Death Valley National Park, California