Friday, 27 February 2009

Death Valley 2

We stop for lunch at Furnace Creek where the gift shop sells pawn jewellery (genuine Native American turquoise and silverwork that they have pawned to spend up large at the casino probably), kids’ books about spiders, snakes and lizards, and cute cuddly tarantulas.

I have a mesquite salad (smoked chicken, toasted pecans, salad greens, red onion and mandarin slices with lime and cilantro dressing) while Him Outdoors chooses a taco salad. This collection of beans, chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, guacamole and sour cream in a big taco shell is a sort of Mexican equivalent of a giant Yorkshire pudding.

The wind has died down but the sun is still relentless as we press on for a stroll along the boardwalk at salt creek, looking for pupfish (so called because they ‘play like puppies’). These amazing creatures have adapted to changing climactic conditions and can live in springs as warm as 30°C and in streams whose water can be five times as salty as the ocean. There aren’t any fish and we can’t see any water, but there must be some moisture as there is plenty of pickleweed, introducing rare greenery to the park.

Mosaic Canyon has beautiful marble-like slides on one side and rocks popping out of rubble like polished concrete on the other. The late afternoon sun casts shadows and patterns on the sand dunes. The temperature plummets as the sun dips behind the hills, and the reds, pinks, yellows and golds give way to browns, greys, purples and blues. The full moon appears ghostly in the sky above the Cottonwood Mountains; the coyotes will have something to howl at tonight.

We leave Death Valley behind. It got its name in 1849 when the California Gold Rush lured short-cut-seeking wagon parties through here. Only one wagon made it out, and one of their party died in the valley. Another member of the party turned and said, ‘Goodbye Death Valley’ and the name stuck.

The muted pinks of Panamint Valley are cool and gentle in the twilight. The moon rises high and the stars begin to come out; there are still no clouds to block the sky. It is pierced only by the silhouettes of the Joshua trees on the horizon, like Injuns creeping over the crest of the hill.

If the creationists are right, then Death Valley must be either a mistake or a hoax. It is as though the maker was going through an experimental phase and here is his waste basket into which he threw everything that didn’t quite work.

Perhaps this was the ‘difficult second’ for which he grew his hair, took some mind expanding drugs and produced a concept album in a gatefold sleeve, which he called Death Valley. And he saw that it was distinctly odd.

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