Friday, September 23, 2011

Our love affair with the desert

Sunset in Death Valley

My first experience with a desert landscape was in February 1975. Marc and I had known each other exactly six months and kibbutz Beit Alfa, where we had been studying Hebrew, was taking us all on a trip through the Negev Desert, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea and the Sinai Desert all the way to Sharamel Sheik. It was a reward of sorts for working hard and doing our homework. It was also the end of our intensive Hebrew course, and our last couple of weeks together before leaving Israel for our respective homes (me back to Winnipeg and Marc back to Chicago). We decided to extend the organized trip with a trip of our own. Our plan was to take a bus to Dahab and Neubah before returning to Beit Alfa and our flights home.

Looking back, I guess it was our first adventure. As we started our extended trip, there had been a flash flood and the roads had been washed out, and the buses stopped running at the end of what once was a road. So we had to walk most of the way, ending up in an abandoned Bedouin village, where we spent the night on the beach with only candles for light.

It was terribly romantic, and I think for both of us it was the beginning of our love affair with the desert.

Death Valley, when we first arrived at sunset, brought back all of those fond memories of the Sinai. Even with inhuman temperatures, the scenery takes your breath away. We spent three days in this sun baked sculpted landscape, marveling at every vista.

Golden Valley, Painter's Palate, Death Valley

Our tour of Death Valley included (I am probably missing a few spots ...) a sunrise walk to Darwin Falls (yes a waterfall in the desert!), a walk in the Mesquite Flats sand dunes, a visit to Scotty's Castle, a very hot walk through Titus Canyon, scenic drives through Artists Palette and Artists Walk, a walk through Golden Canyon and a drive through a Twenty Mule Team Borax route (as well as a visit to the mine), a sunrise walk on Badwater Salt Flats and Devil's Golf Course flats, as well as a visit to Ubehebe Crater and a scenic drive to the Zabriske Point (not necessarily in this order).

Golden Canyon, Death Valley

All of this, as we watched the thermometer hit 108 degrees!! As I listened to our water bottles, compressing and popping from the drops in altitude and the heat, I was wondering how our internal organs were feeling about the conditions we were putting them through! But not to worry, we followed all of the rules and drank gallons of water, and aside from me sitting it out in the shade while Marc explored Titus Canyon (108 degrees at 5:00 pm), everything else was quite doable.

Zabriske Point and Golden Canyon
One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Scotty's Castle. Here is a description I found online:

Fifty-three miles from the Furnace Creek Resort and within the park boundaries, Scotty's Castle stands as a tribute to friendship. In the early 1900's, Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty) convinced Albert Johnson to grubstake his gold mining expeditions. The gold never materialized but Johnson fell in love with Death Valley and took a liking to the colorful Scotty. Johnson and his wife, Bessie, built this two-million dollar home with luxurious appointments and Scotty claimed it was his and was building it from the profits from his gold mine. Owned today by the National Park Service, daily interpretive tours are provided year round. 

Scotty's Castle
We didn't know exactly what to expect when we arrived, but were pleasantly surprised to find a perfectly intact and beautifully appointed "castle". The story of Death Valley Scotty and his relationship with Albert Johnson was told to us by a lovely park ranger dressed in period clothing as we walked through the rooms of the castle. Extremely well done and the story, if you believe it is really astounding. It was a bit of an effort to get there, but we were both really happy we had made this a priority. The desert is so mysterious, and this tale, adds just a pinch more spice to the already tasty experience.
Golden Canyon, Death Valley
As we were walking through Golden Canyon, we both kept commenting on the colours of the canyon and how much we loved them. I realized at that moment that we have been surrounding ourselves with these exact colours for the last 36 years. The colours we painted the walls of our homes, and all of the artwork we have bought together, are shades of the rock formations we were admiring. Kind of comforting, now that we do not have a home, that we can always feel at home in the desert!

As a closing footnote, while we were coming out of this amazing canyon, we met a young couple who stopped us and asked "Excuse me, is there anything at the end of this canyon besides these rocks?" We could see that the beauty of this natural environment was completely lost on them. We smiled politely and assured them that it was worth their while to continue on. Different strokes for different folks!

Badwater Salt Flats, Death Valley

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley

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