Day 13: Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death…

If I took out a singles ad today, the description would include, “must love long walks in the desert, and getting caught in the wind.” My trip to Vegas ended with a three hour drive to Death Valley, which is in the Mojave Desert across the border in California. The drive there was just as breathtaking as the actual valley itself, which is over 200 ft below sea level: the lowest area of land in the entire United States. I cannot possibly describe the desert in adequate detail. In Vegas, every one of my senses were overloaded and feeding me more information than I could process. The Mojave Desert was quite the opposite. A barren land, very little vegetation or life lives out here. As soon as you exit your vehicle, you’re met with 120 degree winds blowing at your body. The air is as hot as the air inside a dryer, but much more dry. Within a short time, your sense of touch is severely limited by the wind. There are no smells. There is no taste other than the arid air. The only sound is the sound of your own breathing and the wind blowing in your face. No animals to howl. Very few cars to drive by. No cell signal. Being in the desert is a sobering experience that makes you aware of your own mortality as a human. It further makes you realize just how small and dependent on others you are.

Staying close to the car, there was still a lot to see. I was reminded of Victor’s instructions about contrast in music. People see contrast, and that’s why space and changes in dynamics add texture to the music. The contrast in the color of the dunes emphasized his point. My mind was drawn to the great detail in the contrast I saw between dunes, as well as that within individual ones.

After the sun set (I’m a sucker for a good sunset), the sky slowly became pitch black. When all was dark, the stars began to show in the sky. At first, you can only see the very basic stars that you’d see elsewhere. After about 5-10 minutes of letting your eyes adjust, an entirely new and never before seen family of stars emerge. Clusters of tiny stars well beyond the constellations I was used to seeing. The air was so clear and the sky so unobstructed from surface light that I was able to actually see the stars twinkling. A handful of meteors made for a great shooting star display, and by then my eyes had become to accustomed to the one sense that actually worked in the desert – sight – that I was able to refocus and pinpoint shooting stars before they fell out of sight. There was a satellite orbiting and what I believe was a very bright planet in the distance; perhaps Venus. It was an amazing experience. There was an amazing scientific feel to watching all of this happening. The curvature of the Earth, solitude in the desert, and the fact that my eyes were so attune to what was going on around me brought me to a new level of understanding. There was nothing to do but just lay there and watch like a child. I feel like I saw the stars for the first time. The faintest light from a car in the distance was an enormous distraction. If fireflies had been able to live in the desert, I suspect even a single firefly miles away wouldn’t have gone unnoticed.

The drive back was also impressive. Within two hours of Vegas, you could begin to see the lights fill the sky. It’s no wonder you can only see basic constellations and only a few layers of stars in most parts of the US – even the rural parts. Small critters finally began emerging and throwing themselves in front of the car, plunging to their death. I did not see any wolves or large animals at all. I wonder if they could survive in Death Valley. No animal bones or anything of the sort was even lying in the desert. It was eerie, in fact, how little life there was anywhere – or even traces that life had ever been.