While the rest of summer tourism flocked to more accessible and cooler alternatives, my brother and I braved forth in our A/C-less ’92 Jeep Cherokee through one of the hottest places on earth.
It was the crux of summer when we chugged and toiled up the steep inclines of the Panamints and twisted through the Black Mountains down to the vast salt flats covering the valley. It was a world I never expected to encounter: surreal and eerily beautiful. Part of me wanted to linger a little. Such beauty needed to be admired. But the heat prevented much of anything, and most of me worried for our safety in the rising temperatures.
As fate would have it, our Jeep nearly overheated trying to ascend the steep grades of the mountain ranges. We pulled over in a turnout, shut off the engine, and waited. For the first time, I felt the loneliness settle. The thick July heat wasn’t nearly as suffocating as Florida’s, and I was thankful we had a trunk full of water and food. But there was no one for miles. No cars, no park rangers approaching in the distance. No service either. Just us, the jeep and the great desert.
And my was it great!
Serrated peaks of reds, browns and oranges bordered the horizon and cradled the expansive golden valley below. They all seemed like faraway lands, lonely and waiting to be discovered and explored. Secrets were hiding between its canyons and so were the last whispers of a time forgotten. It was all heartachingly magnificent.
Perhaps it was this allure that thwarted my concern for the jeep. Instead, I was pensive and inspired. I felt as if I’d escaped into Middle Earth somehow, and any moment I’d embark on a long quest by foot, a la Frodo and Samwise, to carry out a necessary good. I’d already marked a peak in the distance as my Mount Doom.
When the jeep started again, it began to rain. The rest of the drive to Beatty went without a hiccup, and I promised myself I’d return to Death Valley one day.