Desert Musings

Desert Musings

Reese Levine, Editor-in-Chief

It can be easy, living like we do in such a densely populated place, to forget how big the world really is. There is no way to comprehend the vastness of the universe when the sound of the freeway is a constant low drone in the background and only the very brightest stars shine through the light pollution. But trust me when I say you haven’t really lived until you have visited the desert at least once.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience Death Valley, one of the most amazing deserts in the world, five times in my life. And each time, I’ve walked away with more appreciation for how large everything is, and what little effect my actions have. Maybe it’s a little depressing, and certainly I would hate to live in Death Valley or any of the towns that surround it. (To be specific, Trona, which is nestled on a plain of salt and surrounded by barren spires of crumbling rock. Luckily, cell service there is non-existent, so no one who lives there could be reading this.)

However, in short doses the desert can be a wonderful place. In the daytime, mountains over 50 miles away are clearly visible, and at night, the darkness is so complete that it is hard to figure out if a distant light is the beam of some wandering car or in fact a star hanging close to the horizon.

What makes the desert so appealing to me is the sheer wildness of it. Every time I visit I walk away with a sense of being cleansed from the softness of civilization. The hotel at Furnace Creek has done their best to transport modern trappings into the middle of the desert, and certainly they have succeeded at least in part. The rooms are comfortable, there are a few restaurants to choose from, and there is even a golf course. But go less than a mile in any direction from this oasis, and any sense of warmth and safety dissipates quickly.

In the summer the temperatures are brutal; the record this year was 128 degrees Fahrenheit. And in the winter, the time of year that I usually visit, the temperature regularly drops below freezing at night. The wind can be vicious, and when I rode to Dante’s View, 5000 feet above the valley, it was full on blizzarding at the top.

I guess you could stay in your car at all times and never feel the true power of the land that surrounds you, but where’s the adventure in that? You might as well look at pictures. On any hike a trail can suddenly turn and leave you at the top of cliffs hundreds of feet high, or carry you along narrow ridges where a misstep would mean serious injury or death. Of course there are safer trails, but in the desert nothing is truly safe and complacency is a recipe for disaster.

There is a reason that Death Valley has death in its name, and that many of its main attractions include “hell” or “devil” in theirs. But there is also a reason that so many people, from so many different countries, visit the national park every year.

What each person gets out of the desert depends on what they’re looking for. I know that it refreshes me and makes me more humble, but it doesn’t have to do that for you. To understand what the desert has to give you, you must visit it. It doesn’t have to be Death Valley exactly, but it should be some wild place where home seems a million miles away, and where at night the stars shine the same way they did before humanity arrived, and will continue to shine long after all of us are gone.

Plus, most of the pictures you take will definitely be Instagram worthy.