Life in the Valley of Death
by Kira Frye
“Meep Meep!” exclaimed the infamous Looney Toon character, Road Runner, as he was being chased by Wiley coyote. No matter what diabolical plan Wiley devised he still was unable to catch the lightning fast bird that could not fly. Coming from Montana I had never seen one of these strange yet fascinating birds until I went to Death Valley National Park. After a scenic drive from Sin City I decided to stop at the visitor center to get some information. I strolled past the outdoor thermometer reading a scorching 102 degrees when all of the sudden it was like I had revisited childhood. A road runner whizzed by my feet as I looked up to see a hungry coyote salivating near a creosote bush. Luckily for the bird, he escaped imprinting not only his tracks in the sand but a memory that brings a smirk to my face reminiscing my childhood and that silly cartoon.
This incident was just one of many unique experiences I had that day. Deciding to escape the heat I jumped behind the wheel of my air conditioned jeep to see more of the extremely vast desert that is Death Valley National Park. With miles of dirt road and no agenda I was in the exploratory spirit. I headed for Titus canyon, which as the name suggests is quite regnant. Driving up the steep cliffs, down the rocky slopes and in between 500 foot high walls had both the engine and my adrenaline revved up. As I emerged from the canyon, the valley opened up and the vastness caused my heart to still. Emptiness. Solitude. I could almost hear my heart beat. Loving the serenity I decided to hop out of the jeep and go for a hike through Mosaic canyon. As I hiked, the walls closed in around me and I brushed my fingers against the extremely smooth rock. Centuries of water erosion makes the canyon walls smoother than my parents marble counter tops. I was in awe by the beauty.
After the hike and a full day of exploring I was feeling a little out of it and decided I needed to refuel and rehydrate. Not realizing Death Valley is one of the driest places on earth I continued on to see if there was any sort of water source I could use my filter to rehydrate with. I licked my chapped lips once more as I peered ahead to see a glistening band of white below the horizon. Ah ha! it must be a lake I concluded as I decided to move toward the object in the sweltering heat. But just like the early pioneers venturing through the valley of death in hopes of gold riches I was fooled. This mirage of a lake glistening in the sun turned out to be the exact opposite of what I needed to quench my thirst. It was a massive basin of salt! Maybe at one point in history this depression held water but at an evaporation rate of 150% there was nothing but salt crystals remaining on the valley floor. Now I know how it got its name Badwater Basin. Lucky for me I was not an early pioneer and could hitch a ride with the next convertible with California plates that cruised down the pavement.
The friendly driver just happened to be staying at the Furnace Creek Inn and after hearing my tales of desert adventures invited me to come have a cocktail by the pool. The grin that I had seeing the road runner creeped right back onto my face. We pulled up and I swear I was seeing another mirage! A historic hotel built into the side of a cliff lined with palm trees and bursting with elegance. It was like a slice of paradise was taken from the Pacific and heli dropped into the dirt. I rubbed my dry eyes and proceeded to climb the steps of the veranda into the air conditioned lobby. We grabbed a prickly pear martini and headed to the pool. I’ve never felt more alive than I felt that day in the valley of death.