November 6, 2016
We drive through the barren landscape of Death Valley, past towering cliffs, stunted plants, and nothingness. Shortly after turning into Artist’s Drive, we see a car parked and a small group of people waiting atop a little hillock. Not wanting to share their space, we drive on, in search of our own till spot. Crazily enough, instead of going higher up, we found we were descending lower and lower. Panic starts to set in. We are going to miss the sunset. The roads a narrow, windy and go up and down and the husband is determined to make an amusement park ride out of it. We hurtle past the painted cliffs, pausing momentarily at the Artist’s palette to sigh dreamily at its myriad hues. Once we are back on the main road to Badwater Basin, we race towards its. We get there just in time to catch the last rosy streaks across the sky.
Badwater Basin is 282 ft (86 m) below below sea level and is the lowest point in North America. It holds a small spring-fed pool of “bad water”. The accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make the water undrinkable, and give it a “bad” name. Adjacent to the pool, where water is not always present at the surface, repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes. The salt flats extend as far as the eye can see. You would think that miles and miles of unbroken white expanse would create a sense of liberation, but what you get is a mild feeling of claustrophobic. I thought it was just me*, but the husband acknowledged it too. Badwater basin lies at the foot of the Black Mountains (a southern range of the Amargosa Range System) and when you turn to look at the imposing cliffs they seem to bear down on you. I have been in deeper gorges and looked up at bigger mountains, but never have I felt their weight like this.
As we drove back, velvety black blanket covered our tiny planet. Another planet shone brightly in the distance. Venus, perhaps? Slowly the sky filled up. At first there were a few, and then there were a million gazillion stars overhead. I saw my first ever shooting star. I would have made a wish, but I was so awestruck that I forgot. As I ponder on what I could have or should have wished for, I realize beyond health and happiness for all I love, I couldn’t think of much. Camping in Death Valley has been a big thing on my bucket list, and I guess checking that off had momentarily overwhelmed me. The husband breaks my thoughts, “Do you want to go straight to the Mesquite Dunes for star gazing? It is too early for dinner, anyway.”
On we drive, till we reach the parking lot for the Mesquite Dunes. The road is fairly simple, but try doing it in pitch darkness. The signs are few and far in between and it is hard to tell if you missed them. There are not too many cars/people in the parking lot. We pick a spot and start setting up our cameras. For some reason, it never occurs to us to step out into the wilderness beyond. It doesn’t matter. We saw the most gorgeous sight ever, right there – a glimpse of the Milky Way. We may have seen more, but we have no idea. Now the core, the brightest part of our galaxy is visible in the northern hemisphere only between June and September, so that was not visible but this was our first tryst with this wonder and we were not going to let anything spoil it.
*there are enough people who will vouch for my need to open windows in rooms because I feel boxed in.