Death Valley National Park - California
I love deserts. They are big and wide and seemingly barren until you are close enough to see the cacti and desert blooms, under heat and rare rain and ice. They feel the same as the ocean to me, the vastness reminding me that I am small and the world is so, so big under a universe of sparkling stars.
And I've always wanted to see Death Valley; always, like forever and universes long, something that has and will always be there. And now that I've seen it I want to go back, to see the seasons come and go, to watch water wash away the dry and reveal the new, even to get heat sick and feel small.
We raced to beat the dawn, driving through the early morning night, alone on the road with no stars or moon. Around us, in the darkness you could just see the bulk of mountains, hints of things beside the road. Our destination was Zabriskie Point and there were only a handful of people when we arrived. The landscape came out of the dark, pulled forward and made real in sunlight.
In high school my advanced art class did a huge project of Georgia O'keeffe paintings. We each chose one or more and did copies that eventually made it up around the school. I'm not sure if they're still there but I loved doing them. At the time I prefered her flowers and abstract springs. The desert scenes, the bleached bones, didn't interest me as much; they were alien and spare. But later, in my early twenties when I headed to Santa Fe for the first time I understood. There, under blue sky and bare hills, I understood the beauty. The skies were bluer, the landscape pared down. I've been in love ever since.
Sun-bleached bones were most wonderful against the blue - that blue that will always be there as it is now after all man's destruction is finished. - Georgia O'Keeffe
Death Valley is a distillation of that. The desert boiled down to essentials; the heat more, the sky more, everything intense and sharp and hot like burning iron.
We took the roads we could without having a four wheel drive, a requirement if you want to see a lot of the park. I would have loved to see the famous racetrack but our little rental car wouldn't have made it very far down the washboard road. Next time, and there will be a next time, we'll rent something else and see the walking stones.
I think Badwater Basin was my favorite part of our visit. We drove down after the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. The basin in shadow, the mountains blocking the rising sun, and we stood in a cool morning. The sunlight shifted and changed in the distance, cloud shadows blurring the lines between light and dark.
Visit because it's the hottest place on earth, because there is no where else like it, go for the stark beauty.