The desert is quite simply astonishing. Desolate and silent, this landscape is teeming with mystery and profundity. Both terrifying and enthralling, the desert is one of the few places to which we are inexplicably and unrelentingly drawn and, as a result, Death Valley, California, roughly 150 miles west of Las Vegas, is one of our most frequented travel destinations.
Adding to its impressiveness, Death Valley boasts a number of jaw dropping claims to fame: it's home to the largest national park in the U.S., the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, and it holds the record for the highest ambient air temperature every recorded at the surface of the earth—an inconceivable 134.1ºF. Don't let this scare you; our experiences in the desert have been far more hospitable (in fact, it has rained on every trip we've ever taken to Death Valley which we are pretty sure is a record and, if not, is at least a statistical anomaly!). If you don't trust us that this domestic desert is worth a trip, consider that Native Americans have inhabited the land for over 1,000 years so there must be something alluring about this arid landscape!
Let us talk about the magic we experienced in this under-appreciated holy place. Arguably the most transformative moment for us was an entirely unplanned and unexpected encounter with total silence. After driving deep into the park, we pulled over and walked out onto the salt flats to explore. A few steps away from the car we discovered that there was absolutely no discernible sound. There were no rustling plants, no breeze rushing past our ears, no scurrying wildlife, and certainly no city noise. It was so powerful it was spine-tingling, even a bit eerie. We walked further apart and held our collective breath to deepen the silence. It remains, to this day, one of our most life changing moments. If you've never experienced true silence, especially when you're entirely unprepared to do so, it's difficult to fully comprehend the significance but trust us, it's overwhelming, unquestionably inspiring, and almost spiritual.
Transformative moments aside, Death Valley has so much to offer. With rigid salt covered rock formations, painted mountain ranges, expansive salt flats, and surreal vistas, there is no shortage of geological wonders to witness. This desert is perfect for driving, hiking, exploring, meditating and pretty much every other activity that is respectful of this uninterrupted nature.
Not convinced of the magic? Take a trip to the Racetrack. Here, you'll find large boulders weighing as much as 700lbs that limn deep trails as long as 1,500 feet across the sun-baked playa documenting epic journeys across the scorched earth—although their movements do lack speeds worthy of their Racetrack course! While researchers have proposed dozens of theories on what forces move the impressive stones, no one knows for sure what causes these stunning tracks (granted, there is a consensus that is likely the result of small amounts of water freezing and melting but where's the fun in that!).
On a smaller scale, the desert is brimming with flora and fauna that have adapted brilliantly to this extreme climate. Because of the unusual rains that fell during our trips, we were fortunate enough to watch fields of wildflowers sprout, bloom, and color the otherwise stark terrain literally overnight. Mariposa lilies, poppies, and desert chicory graced the land and offered a delicate counterbalance to the rocky geography. The arid climate supports not only glorious vibrant flowers but also hearty animals. Personally, we've spotted bobcats, jackrabbits, bats, and elegant foxes although Death Valley is home to an impressive number and diversity of nible critters.
If you are looking for a spiritual adventure, moments of pure solitude, and transcendent experiences with nature we couldn't recommend Death Valley more. It's addictively enchanting and after one visit we're confident you'll agree.
All photos from NPS https://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/photosmultimedia/photogallery.htm