It was fall, the camp ground empty except for a few distant RVs. Still warm but not scorching hot, I settled my camp among the creosote bush – a bit of shade and great views to the east. Then began my routine: rising early, heading off to explore, returning to camp at Furnace Creek, heading to the pool for a midday swim, then returning again to camp to read, sip some cool beverages,and take in the view until dusk. Then off again for a bike ride or hike that would end just before dark. Really a wonderful way to have a full day enjoying the valley.
The afternoon after I’d arrived, another solo traveler arrived. A man from LA. He wasted no time in determining that the solo traveling female camped nearby (me) must be befriended (by him).
Anyway, this guy, I’ll call him John, although I long ago erased his name, pulls into the campsite next door, sets up his tent and bops right over to tell me all about his life. Oh, and shares far more details about the gun he keeps under his pillow (just in case) than I really wanted to hear. In case of what? You know, wild animals (or crazy people with guns under their pillows?) We are after all in a “wilderness*” and you never know what could happen.
Truth is that Furnace Creek Camp Ground is pretty darn tame. It’s typical of National Park camp grounds; so far from primitive. It includes a neighboring resort that has all of the amenities including the afore-mentioned pool, golf course, store, and restaurant. It’s hardly roughing it. But, John was happy to let me know that we’d now both be safe. Thanks John, lucky me. Somehow, that’s not the effect your news had.
Despite being a little miffed at my disrupted solitude, I stick to my routine for a couple more days. Up early and back to camp in time to watch John emerge from his tent, and drive off for his adventures in the valley. One of those days, I spent the whole day between my jaunts sitting and reading. Which for me is quite a luxury, and a real treat to do while taking in the views of the exposed geology the valley offers.
Quite a bit happened that day. Several times a Greater Roadrunner came trotting through my site. We exchanged glances, heads a-tilt to get a better look; he moved on and we both continued our day’s business. I, surely more enthralled by the encounter than he. I watched as the shifting shadows changed the colors and shapes of the surrounding hills revealing different outcrops and strata through the hours. I pondered and generally relaxed with the passing clouds.
Late in the day, as the ambient temperature peaked, the ravens treated me to a show. A half-dozen convened in the gravel of the empty campsites in front of me. A few squawks and gurgles and to wing they went. As they started climbing, using the afternoon thermals to rise, their numbers increased. Over the course of 20 minutes or so a good two dozen had climbed hundreds of feet. The closest birds high enough as to be barely visible by naked eye. With binoculars in hand I watched as they all climbed even higher. Then, just when it was becoming nearly impossible to track them, down they came. And I mean down; tumbling down, diving down, somersaulting down in pairs and trios. Spectacular!
It was the most amazing display of avian acrobatics I’ve seen to this day. It only lasted a few moments as they covered the distance quickly. Even before my heart rate sped up from the excitement they reached lower altitudes and dispersed in a dozen different directions, disappearing completely and leaving me in awe of what I’d just witnessed…and wishing for more.
That display was the highlight of my day, probably the highlight of my trip. It was one of those rare moments that leaves you stunned and amazed and thankful for being in the right place at the right time. For me, that right place was my campsite where taking the time to sit and watch had made my day a full one.
So, still reveling in the marvels of the afternoon, I remained seated in my camp chair, finishing my book, and into camp speeds John. Who then, of course, speeds over to tell me all about his day. He’d been to Scotty’s Castle and a few other well-known Death Valley hot spots as if more concerned about collecting experiences than actually having them. He tells me what great sights the valley has, as if I didn’t know. He looks at me, planted in my chair, right where he left me hours earlier, and says with authority, “You should go do something.”
I can’t remember what I said. I do remember what I thought. I thought he was a fool for thinking he’d been doing something and I had not. Internally, I shook my head at his lack of understanding that I had indeed done something. Something big. Something wonderful. I’d been letting the valley show me its secrets.
What else was there to do?
*see my discussion of what makes wilderness in Going Wild in New York