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death valley

The next day I wake and my mind is still full of yesterday’s encounter. The men are breaking camp in the distance and soon speed off in a huge cloud of dust. I cook breakfast and break camp more slowly and then get on my bike to cycle fifty miles over corrugated deep gravel road, over another mountain pass, to the north end of Death Valley proper.

Mountain ranges encircling the valley.

The mountain range to the east of Eureka Dunes - like a chocolate layer cake.

Death Valley

Same mountains, different light. I have to cross this mountain range to reach Death Valley proper.

Cycling over the mountain range I pass a number of abandoned mines. You have to hope that people found what they were looking for out here.

Cycling over the mountain range I pass a number of abandoned mines. You have to hope that people found what they were looking for out here.

More remnants of gold frenzy.

More remnants of gold frenzy.

At the top of the pass the road stretches out into the valley below.

At the top of the pass the road stretches out into the valley below.

Crankshaft Crossing - Mike told me there was a fresh water spring near here the road was so bad that I couldn'

Crankshaft Crossing - a junction in the road. Mike told me there was a fresh water spring near here where I planning to camp but the road there was so bad that I couldn't even push my bike on it. I don't often give up but this one defeated me - especially as I wasn't 100% sure that there would be potable water there even if I managed to arrive at the springs.

Endless road heading south to Death Valley.

Endless road heading south into Death Valley.

The variation of light and rock formations are constant.

The variation of light and rock formations are constant.

The road surface is slow going and I hit tarmac on dusk and cycle into a campsite where I can replenish my water supplies after dark and set up camp. The following day I cycle towards Furnace Creek, the main tourist destination in Death Valley. I pause to investigate the salt bed lake.

Bad water - not the official bad water but I think this is what they are referring to.

Bad water - not the official bad water but I think this is what they are referring to.

While I am still standing by the side of the road and the group from Eureka Dunes pass me, in the opposite direction, in their convoy, beeping their horns enthusiastically. “Hello, Anna!” “Hello, Anna!” Greetings ring out over the desert and I wave.

After filling up both my four litre water bags at Furnace Creek I cycle onwards, choosing to take the West Side Highway, a gravel track on the west side of the valley. The sun sets as I turn off the tarmac but as the moon is almost full I keep riding, by moonlight, in the soft thick air 200 feet below sea level.

Cycling by moonlight.

Cycling by moonlight.

Dawn, camping in the desert.

Dawn, camping in the desert.

When I tire I wheel my bike off the road in the immense glimmering darknes. The silence in the desert is so deep it is a palpable presence.

After dinner I walk as far from tent as makes me feel comfortable that I will find it again and just stand there. The moonlight is bright enough to cast shadows, strong enough that the subtle graduations of colour in the mountain ranges ringing the valley are evident – colours so subtle they don’t have names. It is impossible to say gray or blue or brown, violet, silver, sage; none of it describes the colours I see in the not quite dark.

Move deep gravel - slow going.

More deep gravel - slow going.

The vegetation changes constantly but I am ignorant of most of it.

The vegetation changes constantly but I am ignorant of most of it - I don't know if this tree will spring back into life in the presence of water or not.

There is plenty of life in any desert. This little fellow reminds me of an Australian lizard.

There is plenty of life in any desert. This little fellow reminds me of an Australian lizard.

The day passes. I wake to the sun rising over the mountain range, light spilling over the lip of the hills. This is no lingering dawn, the day comes fast and hard. The rocky ranges and low brush are bright and rich in the rosy red light of dawn but the colour is soon gone, leeched into the hot dry air.

Once the sun is free of the circling hills the sky is a solid blue, cloudless. The mountains in sharp contrast, sun bleached rock and harsh dark shadows, jumping in and out of relief like an optical puzzle.

I ride all morning, covering thirty miles along a dusty sandy track. One car passed full of old people and then, incongruously, a wagon train full of overweight sweaty people. Nobody seemed to be having a good time. They replied to my greetings reluctantly and pretended not to hear, or understand, when I asked if they had any water to spare.

The sun is hot and the road slow. The desert leaves me speechless. I would have to spend a long time here to learn the language with which to speak of it.

Eventually the moon rises and it is time to rest.

Moon rise.

Moon rise.

More moon.

More moon.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Lucie | December 3, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE your descriptions of colors in the desert Anna! And like to imagine you walking from the tent at night, watching your shadow cast by the moon, looking at the mountains. Wonderful! And the silence! (But: aren’t you afraid of the tarantulas? Are there many spiders? And what about snakes?)
    Take care!
    Lucie

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