A solo trip to the largest National Park in the Lower 48
Last month, I found myself alone in the desert. I let the strange wonders of Death Valley completely overtake me as I explored this massive National Park, (which is twice the size of Delaware, just to give you a sense of its scope.) I disconnected from the rest of the world, I unplugged, and I let the power of the fierce sun tinge my flesh. In the process, I found a piece of myself I think I'd lost.
Once I landed in Los Angeles, I immediately headed away from the city, to the arid basin which lies far from the coast. The Californian sun drenched me with its rays, and I couldn't stop smiling as I took in spectacular views, singing along to some of my favorite songs that were blaring on the stereo.
Once I made it to the park, I found myself at Salt Creek, one of the only spots where water flows. You can often find pupfish swimming here, which are found nowhere else in the entire world. I didn't spot any, but the whimsical boardwalk that took me over the tiny creek was fun to amble over.
Since I'd spent most of the day driving out to the park, the daylight began to fade quickly, so I knew it was time to head to the sand dunes. I'd heard that these enormous piles of sand were best viewed with the waning sun, and it certainly proved to be true. Crawling over these huge piles I made my way to the center, traipsing along the ridges that towered hundreds of feet into the sky. The sun sunk further down toward the horizon as I sat there and watched the mountains in the distance shift to a brilliant shade of red. I'll never forget those footprints in the sand.
I spent the night in a comfortable cabin, and witnessed the glow of a thousand stars shimmering in the darkened heavens above. In the morning, after a much needed rest, I headed back into the depths of the park, beginning my day with a hike through the winding, narrow pathway etched dramatically through giant rocks at Mosaic Canyon.
Continuing on, I stopped at an overlook at Zabriskie Point where you can see the starched badlands, huge stretches of red rock, and the darkened mountains in the distance. While enjoying the views, I was quickly overtaken by a group of young tourists visiting from South Korea. For whatever reason, they preceded to ask me to be in their photographs, deciding my tall stature and light-colored hair set me in a place apart from what they were accustomed to. I'd been asked to be in pictures with strangers before in Japan, but this felt different since we were in America. I was happy to oblige, but I must admit, after the tenth or eleventh person requested a separate photo, I kind of wanted to run away.
Regaining my solitude, I followed the curving road up to the top of Dante's View, which is said to be the most impressive point in the park. It took a while to get here, as the overlook is at a dead end, but it was worth every mile. For here you can see all of Badwater Basin in its sun-drenched glory, the Funeral Mountains, and even a part of the Devil's Golf Course. For a viewpoint that highlights so many negatively named features, I sure as hell couldn't find anything to complain about. I befriended two kind women and chatted with them for a while before someone unfortunately decided to blast hip-hop music, overtaking the sweet ring of silence.
My final destination was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States, and on the continent itself. For such an empty flat piece of terrain, this spot inspired me in ways I probably couldn't have imagined without being here. It was like I'd found the perfect place to reset, to let go of all of my cares and focus on what I wanted to accomplish next. I walked far out onto the salt flats until I was the farthest person out in the basin, surrounded by mountains in the distance on all sides, the glaring sun beating down upon me without reprieve. I felt more connected to nature than I have in quite some time.
Now that I'd made it to the bottom of the continent, I knew it was time to make my way back up. I began my exit from Death Valley, retreating out on a road I had yet to drive on, witnessing more magnificent views as I put Katy Perry's new song back on my cranked-up speakers. Death Valley is called a lot of things: biggest, driest, hottest, lowest . . . but to me, the superlatives didn't really matter. To me, it was more than just an adjective, it was a place to begin a new chapter, where I could take the words that had yet to be written, and start scribbling them down.
Alexander Rigby is the author of three novels: Bender, What Happened to Marilyn, and The Second Chances of Priam Wood. He lives in Seattle, WA.