In February, my partner and I roadtripped across California, travelling 1,500 miles in 12 days. Our trip took us to ancient forests and valleys, where we saw sands, trees, waterfalls, flat lands, and icy peaks of belittling majesty.
We had hoped to quell any doubts of moving from New York City to San Francisco. By the end of that trip, any doubts were scorched into the roadside somewhere in Death Valley.
We had a few delays in San Francisco: I left two bags with about $150 worth of supplies on a curb in Civic Center; we secured our ride the very same day we intended to leave; maybe we overslept. Once we had repurchased all lost supplies, we packed the camper van and hightailed it south, toward Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
That night we camped out and recharged as much as possible for the next day. We had less than 24 hours to hike around Big Basin, and we needed to hit the road that afternoon for a 10 hour drive to Yosemite National Forest.
Yosemite was slightly disappointing. The East-to-West pass was closed due to icy conditions, so we weren’t able to explore much. It also complicated our drive South to Death Valley, but we overcame that. The highlight of Yosemite, aside from the glorious mountain ranges and the fear of being attacked by bears, cougars, or some other wild animal, was almost not finding a place to sleep at 3:00 am because nearly everything was closed for the season. Planning has never been my strong suit.
After a night and a day in Yosemite, we sped away to Death Valley, roughly 8 hours South. We had been told about a spectacular sunrise visible only from Dante’s View, deep in Death Valley, high above the salt flats. We determined that if we drove non-stop, we could make it just in time to see the sunrise, at 5:45 am.
And so we galloped toward Dante’s View, a 5,457 ft. cosmic theatre that looms over America’s deadliest desert. When we arrived at the outskirts of Death Valley, we had about 1 hour to reach the View. The I-190 carried us skyward from the desert floor, up thousands of feet, through a field of unperturbed night and past signs that cautioned us about wandering cows.
We waded through that moon-soaked darkness along a road revealed only by our headlights. As we scaled rapidly, the camper van would careen and serpentine heavily with the weight it carried up and down those hills, leaning and hinting at the emptiness beside us.
Fortunately, we reached Dante’s View just in time to see dawn.
A few of us—no more than 8—stood witness to the unmitigated splendor of that sun. Although day was breaking, the night refused to retreat. The crescent moon remained fixed in her place, shoring up the night that sustains her. It was a union. It was coexistence.
In the desert there is no duality. Night and day are one. Fire and ice collide and give birth to the stone. Sand is protector and devourer. In the desert all energy is shared and safeguarded by a commandment. That commandment is cyclicality and it infuses the ground, the mountains, the salts, the plants; it imprisons creature and object alike in ongoing death and renewal. I saw this interplay there but not in New York City.
In New York City, energy is expended and sometimes seems lost, irretrievable. This is true of the people too: one moment they are there, the next they are unreachable.
In Death Valley, energy is tangible because each living thing is interconnected. It leeches from your body into the air and feeds the rocks, rats, and rubble.
There, it is self-evident that death is as varied as life itself.