With the wedding over my obligation to stay in Las Vegas had expired and it was time to move on. I know I don't like heat and now I was in the desert in the summer. So and came up with a rather sadomasochistic idea: go to the record setting hottest place on Earth. Death Valley
. 84 miles of basin and range
, scorched rock, dried salt beds, fire, brimstone, and little red critters with pitchforks. I wanted to know what hot
really was. Death Valley holds the world's record at 134°F (56.7 °C). Although this record setting number is contested, the valley has hit 129°F (53.9°C) more than once. Death Valley also holds the record for highest low temperature. One evening it only got down to 107°F (41.7°C). Knowing this, I wanted to subject myself.
I watched the temperature climb and climb. When I saw 115°F (46.1°C) I decided to pull over and get out of the car. I recorded my reaction with was filled with a string of profane additives to describe the experience. In Furnace Creek
(never a town so properly named) I stopped at the visitor center. Along with purchasing my national park pass I read up on the locations to see in the valley. This was my first national park of the trip, and I decided I needed the full experience. I would travel to Badwater Basin
, the lowest place in North America. There I found a bizarre landscape of mud and salt. There were groups of people walking out on the flats. The temperature at this point was 120°F (48.9°C). I decided I was required to do this walk. A kind of Kora
or penance pilgrimage. It was actually a really amazing experience.
There is no way to put into words how hot this walk felt. The sun constantly beat down on the baron earth where even the rock looked fatigued by the constant heat. The wind was like a blast furnace. It did not cool you off so much as delivered more heat to you. You could not hold your hand on the group as the temperature was too high. I ventured out past the point most people stopped to have a moment of time to myself and take in the full experience. Sitting was not comfortable as the ground was hard and hot. Salt crystals had formed in seams along the ground and you can eat it--earth so hot it is a baked good. I took a shot of myself I call "Alone I Sit in the Valley of Death."
I was not expecting to have enjoyed Death Valley as much as I did. It has a savage beauty. Viciously inhospitable, but with an environment conducive to solemn introspection. I am glad I went.
The drive out of Death Valley was one of deliverance. I watched as the temperature drop below 110, then below 100, and finally as I began to climb the into the Sierra Nevada
down into the 60s. I stopped at a gas station to replenish my ice and saw gas prices at $4.48/gallon. I had to pay $6 for a bag of ice, but it were no other options.
My goal for the evening was somewhere near Yosemite National Park. I found a large lodge to park for the evening and again enjoyed the cool mountain air. Death Valley was interesting, but I much prefer staying in the mountains.