Sunrise at Death Valley

November 8, 2016

dsc_0728If you wake up sometime a little before dawn, you can hear the coyotes howl. I unzip our window just a little bit a go back to sleep. When we step out of our tent the next morning, there is one constellation looming large over us, piercing bright stars on an electric blue sky – the Big Dipper*. In Hindu mythology, these stars represent seven (7) great sages. There is however, an eight star in this constellation. Hindu mythology calls her Arundhati, she is the wife of the star-sage Vashista. Together these two stars form their own twin star-system. This binary star has long been considered by Hindus, as the symbol of a perfect marriage. Unlike other twin star systems where one star revolves around the other, both these stars move around each other in synchrony. They stand for complete devotion, steadfast loyalty, and a union where two entities shine together as one for all eternity.  As part of the wedding, Hindu couples gaze upon this binary star (interestingly called Arundhati-Vashista and not Vashista-Arundhathi) and pray for a similar union.  The husband and I got married in broad daylight, so our priest asked us to spot it ourselves at night. All these years later, we finally got to it. We do not have the time to gaze and contemplate. We have a sunrise to catch. We hurry on to Zabriskie Point.

dsc_0780I opt to set up on the mound suggested by pamphotography below the view point, much to the annoyance of a few spectators up there. Hey, it’s not a perfect world and nobody stopped them from coming down. Just prior to sunrise, we see a pink glow above the tips of the Panamits. As the sun starts to rise behind us we see the mountains slowly wake up. As the golden light spreads across the valley floor, more rocks shake off the shadows. The red cathedral seems to glow, as though from within. This play of light and shadow is what all the early risers are here for. Once again, we breakfast on bread and cheese in the parking lot and this time head back to the campsite to pack up.

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* This is also the only constellation I can identify without help.

A Morning in Death Valley

November 7, 2016

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Desert sunrises are supposed to be spectacular. We had checked the time with the ranger when we checked-in. We set our alarms and float away. When we wake up it is so bright outside, it is impossible to believe that the sun is yet to rise. We rush to Zabraskie Point. Zabraksie Point  is probably the most famous view point in Death Valley. This overlook offers a spectacular view of the vibrantly coloured Death Valley badlands. If you stand facing the valley, the sun does not rise over the Panamits directly in front of you. It comes up, over your left shoulder slowly lighting up the mountain peaks. As the light works its way down the mountain range and into the Valley, shadows move across the insanely fantastic formations. We got there in time to catch the shadow play across the rugged landscape. We watched till the golden light turned bright and sunny, and then made our way back to the parking lot to break our fast on bread and cheese.

dsc_0424We drove through the absolutely stunning twenty (20) mule canyon, whose only purpose seems to be to remind us that beauty can be masculine too. The bright blue sky rests on the muscular shoulders of broad chested mountains. The landscape is bare and rocky. Dull pastel  ores break the monotony of the sandy browns, like a man so manly that he is not afraid to wear pink. So rugged is the beauty of  this place that at some point the husband remarks, “We don’t need to go to Afghanistan now.” We don’t have to go to Tatooine either.

DSC_0443.JPGThe road itself is like a rollercoaster ride, full of dips and turns. It feels like off-roading, without really off-roading. When we come out of the canyon, we head towards Dante’s View, a viewpoint terrace offering one of the most dramatic panoramic views of  the southern Death Valley basin –  more than a hundred miles of desert ranges and salt flats flanked by weather beaten mountains.

The beauty of this vast barren landscape is hard to describe in words. It is like that emptiness you feel when you lose someone dear.  The Portuguese have a word for it – Saudade.It is thought to be the one of most beautiful words spoken. In Portuguese, it means yearning for something or someone that you love and which is lost.

*“Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.”
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss