Sunday, January 3, 2016

On Death Valley

I spent the last three weeks on the road, driving from Seattle to Portland, along the Oregon coast, into the Redwoods, then San Francisco, along Big Sur, in LA for a few days, then up through Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Reno, Mt. Shasta, the scenic 99 corridor in central Oregon and finally back to Portland.  I am now 80 miles south of Seattle, in a motel room in Chehalis.  There's a snowstorm, a weather phenomenon this part of the country is not prepared for.  I nearly went into a skid and hit a truck.  I decided to take no more risks on this trip.  I'm here until the morning, then I head home for the final short leg of my trip.

I travelled with my mom from San Francisco along the Big Sur into LA.  We met my brother in LA, and together we spent five days discovering the second biggest city in the US: the Art Deco buildings in downtown LA, a screening of His Girl Friday at a small theater, drives along the Malibu coast, into the mountains, a house that looked like a Bond villain lair, the Getty, a shop run by a poster artist from Nashville, celebrity sightings of Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Alanis Morissette and Sam Elliott, a Warner Bros. studio tour which spent more time showing sets from sitcoms than movies.

The highlight was Death Valley.  For those of you who haven't been, there's a section of about 8 or so sights that you can drive to, experience and leave in a good eight hours.  It's a standard tour and I recommend it to everyone.  There's more I could write about and discuss, but I will just share one thought from this day of the trip.

I've done a lot of hiking in the mountains outside Seattle these past few years, always in Meetup groups.  I've seen some wonderful views.  I've met interesting people on Meetups, but for the most part, I prefer not to talk or hear people talk once we get to the top and experience the scenery, the moment, the spectacle.  The first site I went to at Death Valley was Badwater, the site of accumulated salt deposits.  It's the lowest point in North America and is about 40 or so square miles.  If you remain within 100 feet of the parking lot, like most of the visitors, you see a nice view, but you don't really experience the vastness or the emptiness, the silence, all those things about Death Valley that are celebrated at the Visitor Center.  To experience those things, you need to walk maybe 10 minutes away from the crowd.  I walked for 15 minutes.  I could still hear the crowds in the distance, but their voices were reduced to a low murmur.  There were about 10 other people who did what I did.  We could all see each other, but we all knew what we were doing and silently agreed to stay at least 200 feet away from each other at all times.  The Devil's Golf Course is a large rocky salt pan.  Again, the vastness, again the parking lot with the people.  You only had to walk 100 feet in order to escape the parking lot and feel a little bit alone.  (We read these moments in terms of our own experiences.  If I had grown up reading National Geographic and studying nature, I would probably not be treating these moments as science-fiction/fantasies.  [Star Wars was filmed in another part of the valley.])

All I'm saying is that there are times when it takes so little to escape a crowd, I don't understand why more people don't.  If you're a religious person, wouldn't you rather treat these places as churches and shut the hell up when you visit them?  There are so many places where you can talk about your daily life, why bring your political opinions, ideas, careers, everything to a national park which is, or should be, the great equalizer in American society?

I had a great time.

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