On a cloudy day…
walking along the boardwalk…
Hiking along New Jersey State and County Park trails the day after Thanksgiving made a lot of sense to Leah, who orchestrated our first return to New Jersey since moving to St. Augustine five months ago. She promised a whirlwind week and a-half of personal appointments and commitments packed with a variety of doctors, friends and family members, all laced with an emphasis on over-eating.
And so, during the course of our visit, as advertised, our food-centric itinerary always included a meal punctuated by scintillating table conversation on family history and folklore–touching on recipes, obituaries, and kin outcasts, with politics and religion occasionally creeping into the dialogue.
But mostly, everybody seemed to be preoccupied with their health. And God help the person who would innocently ask, “So, how are you feeling?” Because this question would open the floodgates for respondents to freely reassign their HIPAA proxy on the spot so they could casually discuss their current condition down to the last agonizing ache and pain, notwithstanding the severity surrounding their prognosis and course(s) of treatments, always followed by a couple of random doctor-horror stories.
It seemed like everyone had a health-related story to tell–whether it was about themselves or someone they knew–not unlike my parents and their friends, who would gather at holiday occasions to compare notes about their medication intake. It was uncanny that the of crux of nearly all of our relationships was now firmly rooted in our faded glory and eventual demise.
Any outsider, after eavesdropping on any of our sessions of non-stop kvetching might be surprised to learn that we are still breathing and have more than one day to live.
And so, it was predictably refreshing to carve out some time to clear our ears of prescription patter, and find an activity that combined friendship and calorie burning. Of course, our opportunity to hike was completely weather-dependent, considering the prior Nor’easter and the Arctic chill that had settled on the Atlantic states.
Like many Northern transplants to Florida, Leah and I had become preoccupied with weather-watching, so we might bask in the warm glow of knowing that we had finally escaped the unfriendly winters by relocating to St. Augustine. But now that we were back in Jersey, it was time to face the hard cold facts of winter; Ramapo Valley Reservation (NYNJTC_RamapoValleyCountyReservationMap-2017) was 18°F at the Reservation trailhead, and expecting to peak at 23°F by the afternoon.
MacMillan Reservoir was partially frozen and dreary…
with the exception of distant water reflections.
Trails were camouflaged…
by crispy fallen leaves–densely packed and slippery–despite the assortment of Skittles-colored trail blazes nailed to forest saplings.
Brooks were running fast and high…
making each water-crossing challenging and hazardous.
We continued our four-hour excursion with the winds picking up across Campgaw Mountain.
And it became clear to me that marching through the New Jersey woodlands was not the best birthday present I could have given myself. The cold had already taken its toll on Arlene’s arthritic fingers. Leah, who had recently succumbed to lower back pain and acute Achilles tendonitis was now complaining about her knees.
My knees were also aching from sliding down one too many slippery slopes. Even Doug, the youngest of all of us by at least eleven years had to admit that his right knee was locking up occasionally. The ladies cut their hike short, taking a quick detour to the parking lot, but Doug and I wore our intrepid hats. We continued to the feature waterfall along the Brookside Trail with few delays or complaints…
giving us bragging rights to a 7.5 mile accomplishment,
and leaving me more than ready for my true birthday present to myself: a one-hour Swedish massage at a local day spa, if only to rub my aches and pains away for another day.
It’s been one year since our visit to Mt. Rushmore, and what could be more American than re-posting this episode on Independence Day…
There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.
It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.
Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.
All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.
The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.
Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.
A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹
No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.
Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,
the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…
…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.
Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.
These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.
Happy Birthday, America!
¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.
Every so often, when visiting many of the iconic vistas across America, I’d struggle to capture the overwhelming awesomeness of the landscape around me.
Framing the image through my viewfinder frequently posed a tremendous challenge to adequately represent the expansive angle of the surrounding landscape.
That’s when I knew it was time to put down my Lumix and pick up my phone.
By turning to the panorama feature of my Samsung Galaxy S8,
I found a tool that brought me closer to recording longer distances.
By instantly and seamlessly stitching successive shots with integrated photo-manipulation software,
I found another way to express the world around me.
Panoramas provide an opportunity to share multiple perspectives simultaneously,
gathering as wide an angle as the scene allows–
–eliminating the frame lines and expanding the aspect ratio to maximum effect.
When used appropriately,
whether in color…
or black and white…
there is no better way to establish a field of infinite view without sacrificing the integrity of the image.
a case can be made for showcasing the apparent aberrations and distortions that can arise from difficulty interpolating the multiple parallax points across a scene,
thus creating something unique and/or imaginary.
For instance, flattening a circular garden path…
or warping a linear edifice.
by stepping away from the camera,
and freeing oneself from the single-mindedness of staring,
composing through a viewfinder,
a feeling of liberation arises,
which can also deliver a moment of greater clarity of vision…
and kinetic connectedness to the photograph,
as the body slowly rotates to encapsulate the scene.
What follows is a retrospective of panoramic images of some of my favorite places,
in an attempt to convey the diversity,
and beauty of wide-open spaces across America,
with a word of advice:
Although this post can be enjoyed on a mobile device,
many of the images are rich in detail,
and are best viewed on a larger screen…
to better take advantage of the breadth,
and enormity of the subjects.
my apologies in advance to those who are downloading on slow networks,
for the generous number of photographs with large data files…
may make it seem like an eternity before everything eventually loads.
But such is the case when shooting a photograph.
The virtue of patience…
is ultimately rewarded…
by the satisfaction of knowing that the final image can finally be appreciated.
Starting from Shenandoah River State Park…
and completing the 105-mile drive through Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive from Front Royal to its southern terminus…
exposed us to more rain in 4 days than we had seen in all of one year on the road. There were moments when the deluge abated long enough to give us broken clouds and glimpses from some of the nearly seventy overlooks of the infinite Piedmont range to the east…
and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.
But mostly, we held our breath as we rolled along the two-lane ribbon of asphalt that wound around the mountains and climbed through a fog and cloud cover so dense at times that Leah and I asked ourselves if our summary road trip on the way to retiring the Airstream could literally be a watershed event.
Our travel plans were non-negotiable, as campgrounds had been prepaid along Skyline Drive and the first 300 miles of the connecting Blue Ridge Parkway before we’d exit eastbound toward Charlotte. We had given ourselves this time aboard the Airstream as a last hurrah–a chance to enjoy one more trip and indulge in driving one of America’s great “scenic” byways.
A moving van brimming with our belongings was awaiting departure from New Jersey to Florida, and slated for delivery by the first Monday in June while we slogged through foul weather on our way to Huntersville, North Carolina where our Airstream was destined for dry dock until the following year, giving us ample time to put our St. Augustine house in order and acclimate to Florida living.
Meanwhile, current weather stats revealed that remnants from Alberto (the first official storm of the 2018 hurricane season) had dumped over eight inches of rain along our travel route, punishing nearby dams and washing out essential bridge footings ahead of us, but we dutifully soldiered on, imagining the glorious views that would be to our left and our right.
Every so often, we’d take a break from our mountain miasma, and venture into the valley to escape the cloudburst and capture some of the local color (see A Touch of Blue and Mount Airy, NC), only to return to the Airstream and listen to the downpour pelting the roof like a torrent of bullets.
At times, we’d have a moment of clarity, like when we reached Mabry Mill at Milepost 176 (see Favoritism) and stopped to gawk at red-tailed hawks as they danced atop the thermals,
but it would be another hundred miles of slogging through doomsday rain before we’d catch another break from the storm.
Eventually, we disengaged the Airstream at Price Park Campground near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and backtracked to investigate Flat Top Manor, a 23-room, 13,000 square foot national historic landmark…
and once the summer home of Moses Cone, son of German Jewish immigrants originally named Kane,
and aptly nick-named the The Denim King, for Moses and his closest brother Ceasar dominated the textile industry by acquiring and building manufacturing mills throughout the deep South, becoming the world leader in denim, flannel, and corduroy fabric production, and the sole supplier to Levi Strauss for its “501” brand jeans. Moses Cone, entrepeneur, conservationist and philanthropist had led the South to the Promised Land.
Moses and Bertha built their mansion at the turn of the 20th-century for $25,000 with every modern convenience of the time, despite their 20-mile distance from the nearest railhead, and the remoteness of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
The couple (they never had children) enjoyed central heating, indoor plumbing, telephone, and gaslight–for Bertha eschewed electric light–disliking its unnatural glow and how it affected her skin tone. However, years later, after the death of Moses in 1908, she allowed electricity into the house, replacing the blocks of ice once cut and carried from Bass Lake with a food refrigeration system supplemented by one light bulb in the basement pantry.
The house stands empty, and appears unfinished. No furniture accentuates its over-sized rooms, and cracks have ravaged once-smooth walls.
But there are notable wall decorations…
and at one time, a treasure trove of avant-garde art adorned the mansion thanks to lasting friendships and patronage between two unwed Cone sisters, Dr. Claribel and Etta,
and Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Their collection ultimately passed to the Baltimore Museum of Art, now recognized as the Cone Wing, and valued at over $1billion.
Today, the estate–managed by the National Park Service–services over 25 miles of carriage roads and trails.
Leah and I dared the rain, and hiked five miles to the Observation Tower at the southeastern edge of the property, where we were rewarded with pastoral guests,
intriguing butterflies feeding on unknown feces,
and a breathtaking panorama of nearby Boone–home of Appalachian State University, endowed by Moses Cone–and the neighboring wilderness.
Upon our return, we stopped to pay respects to Moses and Bertha, buried together under Flat Top Mountain,
and overlooking 3,500 acres of his legacy, where an orchard of 35,000 apple trees once produced prized fruit for the gentleman farmer.
The rain returned during the brief drive back to Price Park, but abated just as quickly to capture a lasting moment of smoke wafting across Sim’s Pond.
The next morning–our travel day to Charlotte–we awoke to blue skies and sunshine beaming across Grandfather Mountain.
The run-off from Price Lake was fierce, barreling down Bee Tree Creek.
Rangers alerted us that the Parkway heading south had been temporarily closed. Flash floods and mudslides had forced a partial shutdown of Interstate 40, necessitating a detour through rural America before we could connect with I-77 S.
Putting our Airstream on blocks in Huntersville was bittersweet. It marked the formal ending of Streaming thru America, but our future holds new surprises.
Already, we’re pre-planning a trip to circumnavigate the Great Lakes during the summer of 2019. Until then, we’ll have to settle for a journey of a different sort, and I hope to keep the world posted.
While hiking the Bear Lake Loop Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park, I was drawn to a cluster of lodgepole pines raked across the water, with Mt. Wuh peaking in the distance.
Subsequently, the wind picked up, disturbing the mirrored reflection–a quiver of ripples now transforming my quiet reality into a impressionistic interpretation of my Nirvana.
I was captivated by the shimmering shape of sky and treeline, and inclined to shift my focus to the water, with the notion of turning nature upside down…
…and anchoring the soft glow of a landscape into a liquidscape.
The shortest distance between two points of outdoor interest is rarely a straight line, but it’s always a trail–whether it’s over water…
…or through a tunnel…
…through a tree…
…or under a rock;
Whether it requires a conventional staircase…
…or integrated steps,
…or at times, a ramp,
trails can be linear or curvey, ascending or descending.
Some trails are meant for bicycles…
…while others are intended for boats…
…or a four wheel drive vehicle.
At times there are trails that require more extreme modes of transportation, like an all-terrain Ice Explorer…
…or a train to explore the Rockies…
…or a formation of F/A-18 Hornets…
or even a Space Shuttle.
But mostly, hiking a trail is best accomplished by putting one foot in front of the other, although the terrain can vary from sand…
…to volcanic gravel,
or from ice…
and from granite…
and from tree bark…
…to tree roots…
But in the end, regardless of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,
it’s the journey to get from here to there that matters most–because it’s the journey that builds character, and defines us like the lines on the palms of our hand.
To be sure, one of our many objectives while streaming thru America was spotting and capturing photos of as much wildlife as serendipity would allow, for it’s rarely nature’s way for wildlife to wander into my camera frame and pose at will. So the game of being at the right place at the right time, and putting ourselves in position to witness the spectacle of earth’s mighty creatures became somewhat of an obsession.
Yet, seemingly, whenever Leah and I set out to search for a particular species, we invariably turned up empty. For instance, lying low at Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley for a chance encounter with bighorn sheep escorting their new babes down from Mt. Washburn at the beginning of summer season never happened, despite a solid hour of wait time, and occasional reassurances from park rangers that the prospect was highly likely since no wolves had been sighted in the meadow where the mares prefer to congregate to lick the salt from the rocks by a Yellowstone River runoff.
Instead, when we were least expecting them, we’d found them gathering by a trailhead parking lot in the Canadian Rockies,
and worshipping the moon on the cliffs of Muddy Mountain while returning from a hike through Nevada’s Valley of Fire.
and surveying the brutal Badlands while cruising the Loop Road in our air-conditioned F-150.
Related cliff dwellers included mountain goats from Glacier National Park…
and the Columbia Icefields of Alberta.
In the early months of our journey, our frustrating search for elusive alligators along the bayou and delta landscape led us to create a call that crocodilia were apt to ignore: “Here, gator, gator, gator!” (see Where Have all the Gators Gone?)
However, we would not be denied while airboating through the Florida Everglades…
Lesser evasive reptiles encountered along the way ranged from a bloated rattler…
and a horned toad camouflaged against a terrain of cholla cacti within Joshua Tree…
to a greater earless lizard basking on a Big Bend boulder…
a lounging iguana from the tropics of Quintana Roo…
and an angry gopher tortoise from Hobe Sound.
On the other hand, squirrels and chipmunks were ubiquitous throughout the entirety of our trip…
and never shy, if there was the faintest chance they could scavenge a meal discarded by humans.
Although, their close cousin, the prairie dog was less apt to wander from the safety of its network of burrows at Prairie Dog Town in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Equally as omnipresent, and just as opportunistic were the many ravens that crossed our paths: from Bryce Canyon;
to Arizona’s Painted Desert;
to the perch atop the Cathedral of St. Helena.
Other fowl that caught our attention included a variety of cranes and herons from multiple coastal habitats…
and pelicans fishing from the Gulf of Mexico…
to the Pacific Ocean.
But what really captured our imagination were the wild horses that always stood out in a crowd;
the Yellowstone black bear that we’ve never grown tired of beholding;
and the beasts that have defined our heritage as a nation–whether it was the descendants of Death Valley’s Twenty Mule Team…
or the mighty bison on the open range.
Yes, the animal world is prolific; it’s divided between domestic…
But regardless of the patience required to collect this anthology of imagery, it pales in comparison to the understanding and energy that must be required to keep our environment intact. Of the approximately 2 million animal species identified on our planet, over 16,000 species are rapidly dwindling, due largely in part to habitat destruction and climate change.
According to Endangered Earth,
“There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, and 16,306 of them are endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year. This includes both endangered animals and endangered plants.
The species endangered include one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List that are in jeopardy of extinction. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation. In the last 500 years, human activity has forced over 800 species into extinction.”
We must be resolute and vigilant as conservationists and global citizens to ensure that future generations share the same joy of experiencing wildlife in their lifetime, lest we only have these and other photographs to offer them by default.
Happy Earth Day!
Six million visitors a year gravitate to Grand Canyon National Park, hoping for a visceral connection with one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. They come to contemplate the Canyon’s enormity and marvel at nature’s possibilities. They come to walk the rim; hike the trails; or ride a mule/bike/train. Others may be inclined to climb the observation tower; watch a tribal ceremony; or dine at El Tovar. But no matter what the activity, It seems that EVERYBODY has arrived with a camera to document every moment of their Canyon experience as if it was a sacred rite.
Long lens, zoom lens, tripod, mono-pod, selfie-stick, large format, DSLR, compact, bridge, Polaroid, point-and-shoot, GoPro, iPads and iPhones–irrespective of the expense or complexity of the equipment–somebody is taking a picture of something or someone, almost always.
While not the world’s grandest canyon by size (Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is nearly four times deeper, and Capertee Valley in Australia is longer and wider), The Grand Canyon more than makes up the difference in its spectacular and overwhelming beauty–so much so, that on average, 12 people will lose their life every year while posing or composing a photograph.
While the scenery is certainly breathtaking, I am more than satisfied to experience the canyon from a less risky perch, and push the photographic envelope in ways that are more within my control–like, capturing a sunrise/sunset sandwich–where different day-parts are recorded–from dawn (at approximately 5:15 am) to dusk (at approximately 7:45 pm).
and day is done…
There’s a triumvirate of college basketball competing in the middle of North Carolina, with rival sectors drawn by Duke’s Blue Devils at Durham, and North Carolina State’s Wolfpack at Raleigh, but completed by the Tar Heels of Carolina in the bucolic setting of Chapel Hill.
In fact, consolidated ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) championships by the three powerhouses represent 48 titles out of 64 seasons, for a 75% margin of victory. Even now, as I write this, Carolina has defeated Duke 74-69 to compete against Virginia for its 19th ACC Championship and a place at the NCAA Championship table.
With a long legacy of league leadership, Leah and I concluded that a look around Chapel Hill might offer some insight into Carolina’s dominance.
The campus was abustle, as classes were winding down in anticipation of Spring Break, and time was running out for research papers due by March 9th.
We wound our way around to the sports complex where the public address system at Kenan Memorial Stadium blared a recitation of upcoming Tar Heel dates for Spring sports, which piqued our interest. Perhaps we could find the answers to some of our questions here, so we entered the Charlie Justice Hall of Honor.
We were overwhelmed by the floor to ceiling showcases of memorabilia, photographs, trophies and historical artifacts detailing the history of Carolina football. As I positioned my camera to my eye to capture the glory days of Lawrence Taylor, I was suddenly greeted by the authoritative voice of an attendant behind a long arc of a desk who demanded to know our business.
“Uh, we were looking for access to the stadium, and though it might be through here,” I suggested.
“There is absolutely no photography allowed in the building,” she insisted. “Especially when the athletes are in the weight room.”
At the end of a corridor lined with decorated Tar Heel helmets on one side, and an assortment of NFL helmets on the other, was a glass wall offering a view of several oversized students pressing, curling, squatting and deadlifting 250 pounds or more.
I put my camera by my side. “If you could just tell us how to get to the stadium, we’ll be on our way,” I back-pedaled, not wanting her to think I was spying for a competing organization.
Pointing, she offered matter-of-factly,” Through those doors, and takes the stairs to the left of Choo Choo.”
We mounted the stairs, filed past security’s bag search, and entered a cavernous oval overlooking the first level.
On the field, the Denver lacrosse squad was completing drills before their opening scrum with the Tar Heels.
When the match began, the 63,000 missing fans could not drown out the rap and disco music excerpts that echoed throughout the stands. Leah and I left with the score tied at 1 after 17 minutes of playing time, and with no greater appreciation for rap and disco music.
However, we did fall in love with Patrick Dougherty’s installation of weaving whimsy…
as we passed the front lawn of UNC’s Ackland Art Museum…
on our way to the truck before the meter timed-out,
which served as a visual metaphor for the intricacies of basket(ball) art of a different sort.
With rain forecasted for most of the following day,
we decided to take our investigation indoors where it mattered most.
Inside the museum, we had the run of the court,
dodging and weaving around interactive exhibits detailing every aspect of the game…
that contributed to the success of a program that became a pipeline to the NBA!
When gauging the quantitative results of the team, one need not look any further than the volume of awards.
And if all-time National Championships were a deciding factor, Carolina has seven.
Only Kentucky with 8, and UCLA with 11 have more.
Yet aside from great coaching (Dean Smith and Roy Williams have contributed to the second highest all-time winning percentage at .739) and recruiting amazing talent, Carolina also has the X Factor–
–arguably the greatest player to ever play the game–and the museum has devoted a shrine of artifacts in his name.
Most illuminating are correspondence letters from Coach K…
and Dean Smith…
that directed Michael Jordan’s path and launched him on a career that would shatter records and inspire a new age of athletes…
to become future role models in their own right and not much of a secret after all.
We were breezing through National Park Highway with the winds of Rainier at our backs,
heading through Ashford, WA on the way to Mt. St. Helens (see: Beauty and the Beast),
when the sight of a 17-foot grazing giraffe (Aspen Zoe) craning over a split-rail fence caught our attention,
causing us to catch a second look.
The open field before us provided a perfect pedestal for oversized sculptures.
The allure of a hidden sculpture garden amid the cedars and firs of the Cascades was galvanizing, and had us hooked.
We felt magnetically drawn to the magical monstrosities, and compelled to turn into the gravel driveway for a closer look, sharing the parking lot with The Angel from Hell.
The gatekeeper was generous, allowing us passage,
and we were free to roam through Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park for a small donation.
I turned to Leah, pointing to the bird…
“Check it out. Toucan get in for the price of one!” I mused.
“Your jokes are a bit rusty,” she retorted.
“True,” I countered, “but at least I beaked your interest.
We paused at our first fish-out-of-water encounter to admire the mechanical calculus of mashing a gearhead, cogs and sprockets together with a wheel here, and a drain cover there, and accented with a fan blade for a fin, and a saw blade for a snout, wrapped around an exoskeleton of grating.
“How many horseshoes do you think it took to fabricate the skin?” Leah wondered aloud.
We stepped around for a different perspective.
“Why don’t you ask the artist,” volunteered a robust woman wearing a calico print apron and approaching us from the porch. Indicating afar with her pointer finger, “That’s my husband on the tractor out there, just about finishing up the front yard cut. He’d be happy to meet-cha by the garage, cuz he loves talking about his art.”
Dan Klennert was hungry for conversation, and passionate about his process of collecting junk.
He walked us through the nerve center of his creative cocoon, where all things junk were separated according to subject and size, and stacked in stalls that reached to the rafters.
There are scores of “works in progress” scattered throughout the warehouse that originated on the whim and inspiration of a stray piece of driftwood, or the basin of a wheelbarrow, or the rotary cage of a lawnmower.
Dan is a junk whisperer of sorts. As he sifts through new collections of scrap that he regularly inherits from area farmers and ranchers, he gets a “tingle of inspiration” when he comes across something special.
“This here’s gonna be a whale,” Dan claims, showing us the sweep of the bough with the sweep of his hand. “And this eagle I got started on, I’m still waitin’ on the perfect piece that gonna be his wings.”
“I grew up in a small town called Crookston, MN,” he recalls, “and as a kid, I loved to draw. When I was seven, my family moved to Seattle. That’s when I started pulling my red wagon around the neighborhood, and collecting things from junk piles. I wasn’t much of a student then, but Friday was always my favorite day of the week, because Friday was art day at school.”
Dan became a mechanic by age 22 and learned from a foreman “how to glue two pieces of metal with a welder.”
“I found a way to put together the two things I loved most, scrounging and art,” confides Dan.
Leah and I continued our tour of the property, where the playful…
and the whimsical…
intercepted with the spiritual…
and the carnal…
But it’s safe to say that Dan Klennert has found his Eden on earth. His four-acre niche has given him a place to park the variations of a mechanical mind that melds an anchor to a sprinkler to imagine a snail, as he earnestly nudges the nuance of ex-nihilo–creation out of nothing.
While much of the country is enjoying a refreshing blast of Arctic air to put them in the holiday mood, southeastern Floridians are currently languishing under fair winds and sunny skies, and wondering how they’ll ever manage with temperatures climbing to 80 degrees.
“Look, we’re gonna be in Florida for a few months. As tempting as it is to stay inside and hunker down for the winter, we can’t allow the weather to dictate our lives. We’ve got to get out and stay active. Maybe we should go for a hike,” stated Leah.
“Agreed! In nine months of traveling, we’ve never let the weather interfere with our outdoor plans. So if you’re up for it, we could hike to the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain in Jonathan Dickinson State Park,” I suggested.
“Are you sure?” Leah posited. “It’s been a while since we’ve done anything that strenuous. We could be setting ourselves up for a painful tomorrow.”
While it’s true that we’ve been sedentary lately, and maybe gained a pound or two from Thanksgiving overeating, I thought we could use a legitimate challenge to clear the cobwebs and get the blood pumping in ways when we were performing at our peak.
“C’mon! It’ll be fun. And if it’s too tough to the top, we’ll go as far as we can, and we’ll turn back,” I persuaded.
As a warm-up to our hike, we rode our bicycles to the trailhead parking lot, passing the Loxahatchee River,
and two camouflaged sandhill cranes along the way.
Apparently, resident Floridians were already deep into their hibernation cycle, as there wasn’t a single car in the lot, or maybe this was the hike that everyone avoids, for fear of over-exertion.
We spotted our destination from a distance,
and checked our water supply to ensure we were carrying enough to stay hydrated.
When we approached the trailhead, we stopped at the sign to get better acquainted with our surroundings.
“Are you sure you wanna go through with this?” I queried. “There’s no shame in pedaling away.”
“As long as we’ve made it this far, we should at least try,” Leah opined.
We set out along the boardwalk, traversing the planks, as we ascended the dune.
We trudged up the risers,
and caught a glimpse of our target.
We were nearing the halfway point of our trek, and I couldn’t help but notice Leah’s shallow breathing. Thus far, she had been a real trooper; five minutes had passed since we’d started out, and she hadn’t once complained about her neck and feet. Although, I had to admit, my back and knee were beginning to throb.
Fortunately, the park mavens had wisely provided a bench just when we needed it,
giving us a chance to recover, and consider a different strategy for attacking the steeper second half of the hike.
We managed our steps more carefully,
pacing ourselves as we approached the tower. From a distance, it seemed so small, but now that we were standing so close, it towered over us. We paused for a moment to appreciate its pine leg supports, the efficiency of its screened porch,
and the sophisticated intricacy of its frame lumber construction.
Leah and I took a long look back to see how far we’d come, and we couldn’t help but feel proud of our accomplishment. But it was too soon to gloat.
We still had to contend with the tower ascent.
“I’ll bet they have seats up there,” I predicted.
“That would be a good idea, because you never know when you might want to sit,” Leah exclaimed.
“Exactly!” I stated precisely.
Climbing the stairs was faster than I expected; the adrenalin was coursing through our veins in eager anticipation of the view. Once at the top of the tower, the thin air and the expansive vista made us giddy with excitement. At 86 feet above sea level, we were on top of the world.
All that remained was retracing our steps back to the parking lot. But that would be easy, now that we were riding a Florida high. Although the naysayers would argue that it’s downhill from here.
Charleston, South Carolina has a picture postcard personality with an imperfect and unpleasant past–mostly because Charleston was built on the backs of slaves for nearly 200 years, with nearly 1.5 million slaves passing through Charleston Harbor until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in 1865–yet the appeal and beauty of Charleston cannot be denied.
A tour of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island offers a historical narrative that addresses the highs and lows of the Low Country from a military perspective.
The earliest protection of Charleston’s harbor came from its outlying shoals, forcing ship traffic from the south, and across Sullivan’s Fort.
Early defense of the harbor relied on a sixteen-foot thick sandwich between two slices of palmetto log-walls that British bombardments found impossible to penetrate. In June 1776, nine British warships were driven off under a hail of smooth-bore cannon fire during the Revolutionary War.
Consequently, Charleston was saved and the fort was renamed in honor of its commander, William Moultrie (1730-1805).
In 1794, with the addition of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union, a new 15 star/15 stripe flag flew beyond the sally port…
over a newly-styled defense system, with walls of earth and timber rising 17 feet above the shoreline.
In 1804, a hurricane destroyed the fort, calling for Congress to appropriate funds for a Second American System of coastal fortifications, including an 1809 rebuild of Fort Moultrie fortified with brick,
and the addition of Fort Sumter to its south.
South Carolina’s secession from the Union in 1860 provoked the Civil War. Moultrie was quickly abandoned in favor of Sumter’s stronger defense system. However, the Confederates bombed Sumter into submission three months later, gaining control of the harbor–and successfully defended against a Federal fleet of Ironclads with a string of 32-pounders lined across its battlements–until Charleston surrendered in 1865.
Fort Moultrie continued to modernize, and sustained to protect the southern coastline through both World Wars…
…by coordinating all harbor defenses through its Harbor Entrance Control post,
until its decommission in 1947.
Sullivan’s Island was also the first line of defense against virulent disease, providing “pest houses” for in-transit African slaves between 1700 and 1775. who were processed and quarantined prior to dispatch to the Slave Mart in Charleston,
suggesting a crude and culpable counterpart to white immigration at Ellis Island.
The Old Slave Mart–now converted to a museum–tells the painful story of America’s darkest days in a straightforward way…
offering a self-guided tour through an unimaginable time when freedom was confiscated for a price,
and families were ripped apart,
so America could prosper.
Yet, such a beautiful city has been wrought in the wake of such misery.
But lest we forget:
A seven-mile stretch of road from the southern lip of Great Smoky Mountain National Park to its tunnel terminus remains a source of irritation for generations of locals, and a symbol of an unfulfilled promise from the Federal bureaucracy,
which once pledged to replace submerged Highway 288, but lost their way amid a forest of red tape and environmental concerns.
Fontana Dam begat Fontana Lake in 1941 after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)–in concert with the Army Corps of Engineers–built a hydroelectric plant for ALCOA in consideration of the military’s demand for aluminum essential for aircraft, ship-building, and munitions during WWII. Consequently, communities and roads disappeared under the high-water reserves, and townspeople lost their land and their livelihoods.
In exchange for losing Highway 288, the displaced people of Swain County were promised a road north of Fontana Lake–through Great Smoky Mountain park lands–for continuing access to their ancestral cemeteries left behind, and compensation for relocation assistance. However, most of the 1,300 citizens who resisted the move never saw a dime after ultimately fleeing the rising waters.
Thirty years later, after building 7.2 miles of road and a quarter-mile tunnel, appropriated funds had dried up and the project stalled. By 2003, the National Park Service eventually revealed a feasibility study listing several considerations for public debate, and in 2007, issued a 13-page report detailing the government’s position, electing the No-Action Alternative:
The No-Action Alternative would forego any improvements to Lake View Road with the exception of routine maintenance. Under this alternative, there would be no changes to the existing conditions within the study area. No compensation would be provided in lieu of building the road. NPS would continue to provide transportation across Fontana Lake for annual cemetery visits and would maintain current amenities, policies, and practices of GSMNP.
Subsequently, Swain County sought a monetary settlement, demanding $52 million from the Department of Interior for defaulting on the original agreement. Yet to date, only $12 million has been paid, thus generating a pending lawsuit for the balance of money owed.
After learning about the history, Leah and I decided to make the pilgrimage to see this road for ourselves. We departed Bryson City on a dreary autumn morning, surrounded by mist and brisk winds that had us zipping up and foraging for hats and gloves from a backseat storage bin.
The drive along Fontana Road took us through bucolic farms and pastoral settings.
We followed the lightly traveled road until we reached the park entrance, and continued along a windy incline dotted with shrouded overlooks of the Tuckasegee River below us.
We knew we had reached the end of the line when we crossed over Nolands Creek,
and encountered a barricade of steel poles that barred us from approaching the tunnel around the bend.
The ¼-mile tunnel was dark and dank. And while a flashlight was a handy accessory for navigating the rutted road and avoiding scattered animal feces,
it became an essential tool for spotlighting the pervasive high school graffiti that randomly “decorated” the oft-covered whitewashed walls–
–most of it, a reflection of egocentric teenagers flexing their hormones…
…but in other cases, the graffiti represented a cathartic release of current political expression–
–bringing new meaning to an erstwhile patch of pavement.
As advertised, the “Road to Nowhere” terminated on the back side of the tunnel,
casting a glimpse of an uncertain future fraught with empty promises disguised as good intentions.
A side trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Asheville takes only an hour, but the payoff is timeless. Admission is free, but the views are priceless.
The National Park straddles North Carolina and Tennessee, with Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee, and a natural boundary between both states. The park is situated within a day’s drive for 60% of the nation’s population, making it the most popular of all National Parks, with over 9 million visitors per year.
The park can be accessed through a dozen different gateways, with Sugarlands Visitors Center being the prevailing entry point from the north side through Gatlinburg, TN. But Leah and I approached the Great Smokys from the south, and entered via Oconaluftee Visitors Center, the heart of Cherokee Nation.
Once there, we took our time strolling through the Mountain Farm Museum on the banks of the Oconaluftee River…
…before driving north on Newfound Gap Road–stopping frequently at the many overlooks–to gaze across Carolina’s side of the Blue Ridge Mountains,
and preview our next destination, Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet elevation.
A dogleg turn onto Clingmans Mountain Road took us through short winding turns as we climbed the Appalachian Trail ridgeline, eventually leveling off at an over-sized parking area with trails radiating from the top of the bald, and views extending a hundred miles.
Thinking that views might be even better at the very top–allowing us to see over Mount LeConte–we trekked half a mile up a very steep asphalt path to Clingmans Observation Tower, albeit knowing it was closed for repair until next year.
To our surprise, families were scaling the spiraling ramp to the tower.
Looking around, there were no views to be had at the base. We were surrounded by a dense growth of evergreens without breaks. Sacks of concrete were stacked under the column with flimsy, yellow, KEEP OUT tape tied across the tower entrance.
Scores of visitors-turned-violators stood around the column base, determining their next move. Should they make the ascent or not? Yes, the tower was officially closed to the public while undergoing repair. But was it too risky to breach the ribbon barricade? There weren’t any park rangers present, but maybe there were cameras? What a moral dilemma!
“I’m not going up there,” exclaimed Leah. “There’s a reason that tower is closed.”
“But look around us! Where are the views?! We hiked up here expecting to see something, yet there’s nothing to look at, unless you want a closer look at this fir stump,” I argued. “And what about everyone already up there? If they really wanted to keep us out, then why didn’t they secure the entrance better? Why didn’t they use fencing instead of tape?”
Leah was adamant. “I’m still not going up there, and I don’t care about everybody else! It’s not the right thing to do.”
I offered Leah my Roy Moore rationale: “But it ain’t illegal if ya don’t get caught!”
I deliberated carefully…
…and ducked under the tape. I couldn’t help myself. I wouldn’t deny myself the views I had come all this way to capture.
The 45-foot tower was completed in 1959 to give unobstructed 360° views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and it was showing its age. The concrete pathway was separating from the wall in places, and patches of rebar were visible along the way. But did it warrant closing while in the midst of being repaired?
Probably, but not until I had the chance to document the landscape. I scurried up the ramp with the intention of quickly getting my shots, and hurrying back down, just in case I should be noticed.
On our way back down the trail, several families on their way up the trail, paused to catch their breath and ask, “Is it worth it? Is there anything to see up there?”
“It all depends on how good you are at following orders,” I’d answer cryptically.
But our day wasn’t done yet. It was only three o’clock, and we hadn’t hiked more than an easy mile. We’d been told by a park volunteer at the Visitor Center that the two-mile trail to Andrew Bald–which intersects with the Appalachian Trail–was a worthwhile hike with amazing views at the end.
So, we took her advice, and set out down a narrow, terraced ridge capped by embedded logs as steps–to keep the erosion to a minimum–until it turned to saw-toothed rocks and twisted roots, and occasional mud in low lying places.
“You realize that it’s now getting dark around five, so we’re not gonna have much time before we have to turn around,” Leah warned. “And climbing back up this hill is gonna be a bear!”
“Sunset’s at 5:30, but as long as we’re out by five, we should be fine,” I replied. “Besides, there’s no way I’m gonna miss the sun going down from up top!”
We made excellent time down the mountainside, and crossed onto Andrew Bald, a grassy clearing with breathtaking views. While Leah was making new friends, and photobombing their picture,
I was focused on the sky, and that’s when I realized that the sun had created something remarkable.
That slivered arch of a rainbow crisscrossed by contrails was an elusive sundog, a small portion of an optical phenomenon caused by sunlight refracting off tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere, and creating a larger halo around the sun.
The excitement of capturing this meteorological moment was enough to propel me up the mountain and back to the parking lot with plenty of time to prepare for sunset. But the look on Leah’s face after emerging from the hike told a different story; her feet were achy and her knee was throbbing.
Almost immediately, all the visitors who stood shoulder to shoulder, drifted back to their cars and trucks to wind their way down to the bottom of the mountain road in the faint tinted light of dusk.
If only they had stuck around long enough for nature’s curtain call…
Seldom am I so amazed that I am speechless or at a loss for words…
After visiting twenty-nine U.S. National Parks, four Canadian National Parks, a dozen National Monuments, numerous State and Provincial Parks, and driving thousands of miles of scenic byways over the past twenty-nine weeks,
Leah and I have yet to discover a place that is so captivating that we didn’t want to leave…until now.
Valley of Fire State Park allowed us the chance to finally exhale, after America held its collective breath trying to make sense of yet another senseless killing spree, when a maniacal sniper opened fire on a crowd of 20,000 innocents a ¼-mile away.
We were 4½ miles out of harm’s way, staying at an RV resort off I-15 at the time, and wondered about the incessant sirens screaming past our open windows after 10 pm that fateful evening..
“I can’t believe how much crime they have here,” Leah exclaimed.
“Wouldn’t want to live here,” I offered.
Switching on the TV, all stations were locked on breaking news of an active shooter at the strip, but details were sketchy with the story developing by the minute. We quickly realized that we were listening to the soundtrack of a massacre: SWAT teams, police, EMT, and ambulances were sprinting past our Airstream–in and out of the danger zone.
Originally, we booked a couple of days in Vegas to decompress, and intended on exploring the strip in search of available show tickets once the Airstream was unhitched. But the prospects of casino crawling quickly faded after an afternoon of relaxation by the pool. Then again, we figured there would always be tomorrow.
Yet by morning, as the tragedy at Mandalay Bay unfolded, the thought of unthinkable loss left us gasping for air.
Leah summed it up: “It doesn’t feel right having fun when we’re surrounded by so much pain and suffering.”
We needed a getaway. We took off for Red Rock Canyon to escape the inhumanity, and clear our heads.
It was a small dose of nature for the day, and helped to heal our heavy hearts.
The following day, we moved our Airstream fifty miles east, to the Valley of Fire, where we found the perfect antidote to murder and madness. We found a place where we could breathe,
and the only sound at night was silence.
The park has an abundance of features and formations.
But the hiking trails off White Domes Road offer the biggest reward.
Rainbow Vista gave us an opportunity to scramble over rocks with more colors than a box of Crayolas.
A loop through the deep red sands of White Domes transported us to the 23rd century set of Star Trek: Generations.
A stroll through Fire Canyon during late afternoon gave us the impression that each rock radiated from within.
But I was unprepared for the exhilaration I felt after reaching the Fire Wave.
I’ve adopted Valley of Fire as my Muse. Even now, when I close my eyes, I believe I’m living in Candyland–a magical world where the cliffs look like candy, and all the residents of the world are tolerant of each other.
This post represents a milestone of sorts, as its #100 in my series of posts for Streaming Thru America–a blog intended to showcase and celebrate the diversity of beauty throughout the country. I dedicate #100 to all the victims, and their families, and I salute the first responders, the good Samaritans, and the medical personnel, who continue to fight for the living.
2,500 years before Valley of Fire State Park came into being, the Basketmakers, an ancient American culture migrated across the Nevadan high desert valley to hunt and pray, leaving behind pictographic records of their lives throughout the park’s 42,000 acres.
But Atlatl Rock qualifies as the best preserved and most dynamic petroglyph attracting the greatest number of pedestrians.
Easily reached by climbing eighty-four steps over fragile sandstone,
the symbols etched into the black patina tell an uncertain story, but the symbology clearly features known images–notably an atlatl, which was the “bump stock” of its time. Intended as a spear accessory, the atlatl was a forerunner to the bow and arrow, and used to improve speed and throwing distance when reaching bighorn sheep atop the wildly sculpted cliffs.
In anticipation of Valley of Fire becoming Nevada’s first state park in 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps built The Cabins for motorists and pedestrians passing from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles along the Arrowhead Trail.
While hiking past Fire Canyon Road in anticipation of a glorious sunset, Leah and I were surprised to encounter a herd of bighorn sheep, perhaps the original inhabitants of the area.
We slowly followed at a safe distance as they’d periodically stop and graze across the hillside while heading for higher ground. Always wary and intently watching,
the leader of the pack stood vigilant.
As the sun sank behind the Muddy Mountains,
and yielded to a spectacular moonrise over the Valley of Fire,
the celestial guardians of the park had found a place where no atlatl and spear could harm them.
October’s arrival has ushered in cooler weather, granting a seasonal pardon from the intense summer heat. Today’s forecast for Death Valley is expected to peak at only 101° F, which is still good news for lizards, Steve Bannon, and cockroaches, but less ideal for humans.
We awoke to the sounds of early morning buzz around Stovepipe Wells.
A steady stream of early risers traditionally flood the park before the sun becomes too forbidding. Fortunately for us, they will likely swarm to the iconic hot spots, which only accounts as a pen stroke of Death Valley’s complex signature.
We started the day with an off-road expedition to Mosaic Canyon’s serpentine passage…
…and we hiked until we reached the foothills of the Panamint Range. It was a worthy addition to yesterday’s collection of geologic gems.
From there, we took the historic high road through Emigrant Pass, and back to a time of survival–when pioneers and prospectors competed against all that nature could muster. But nothing could dissuade or discourage the hardscrabble men and women with ardent dispositions, and the promise of a gold strike.
Today, the desert is littered with claims. In fact, there are more abandoned mines in Death Valley than any other national park. But one mine is special, and it belonged to Pete Aquereberry.
He gained control of the claim after winning his 1907 lawsuit against Shorty Harris, an entrepreneur, a raconteur, and bona fide con-artist, who later built a castle at the top of the valley and filled it with museum-worthy art.
When all the other mines and miners faded away, Pete continued to pull gold from the ground for forty years,
and refined it through his cashier mill.
Fortunes were made and lost in turn-of-the-century boomtowns like Skidoo, Ryolite, Leadfield, Ballarat, but Harrisburg was different. Pete continued to live in his ramshackle cabin until his death in 1945.
Two-hundred yards up the hill, an overgrown path leads to a graveyard of rusted appliances, oil drums,
and a bullet-riddled 1948 Buick Roadmaster, an elite automobile at the time of post-war production…
…that sits abandoned in the middle of Nowhere, Nevada…
and without a reason or a clue of ownership.
However, beyond the mining camp, and up a primitive road at 6433 ft. above the valley floor lies Aguereberry’s everlasting “Great View”,
better known today as Aguereberry Point, where the air temperature soared to 70° F. Even better was having the mountaintop to ourselves,
until a team of law enforcement rangers unexpectedly crashed our party. After chatting awhile, we took our cue and continued in search of the Charcoal Kilns without really knowing what to look for.
Turning east on Wildrose Canyon Drive, we followed the road until pavement turned to gravel, and eventually narrowed to passable traffic. One moment we were driving through high desert, and when we turned the corner, we found ourselves inside a lush forest of piñon pines, as if we’d been transported to another part of the country.
The air was crisp and smelled of sage. Dead ahead was a string of ten identical bee hives–making for a very different kind of Rockettes chorus line.
That’s when Leah and I realized that we’d found the kilns.
Quarried from the mountainside, these imposing structures built in 1877–and used for only three years–still have the stink of creosote permeated within their stone walls. The cones are perfectly symmetrical, and the inside acoustics sound amazing.
Our trip continued past the kilns and up a high-clearance mogul run that was barely one-way-wide. Just then, an Accord barreled down and around a craggy corner faster than anyone should, and came to a skidding stop at the sight of me. It seems we were now engaged in a friendly game of chicken, so I made the first move and crept up the mountain in his direction. Perhaps he presumed that I was pulling off the road to give him a chance to pass, but there was less than no room for him to clear me. He was beaten, and he knew it, as he backed his Honda into a clearing, allowing me to pass. We exchanged fleeting glances, and I realized that winning right-of-way was more of a victory for the truck.
The road topped out at Mahogany Flat, where a lone camper was listening to Ruby Tuesday on his personal speaker, and a middle-aged couple had just completed their hike to Telescope Peak–a fourteen-mile round-trip to the highest peak in the park at 11049 ft.
While our hearts were willing, we were in no condition to start such a big hike so late in the day. But with assurances of great views from two senior hiking superstars, we walked for a mile until we reached the first clearing. While it was good enough for Leah, I wanted more. Leah stayed back while I continued to the second clearing, no more than another ¼-mile ahead.
And that’s when I finally understood the park.
Leah and I had visited Death Valley seven years ago, and had a completely different experience. For one, it was February, and it felt like we had the entire park to ourselves. The other oddity was when it rained; it brought a sudden eruption of wildflowers to the desert, and turned the Basin into briny ponds of unusual colors and strange lifeforms.
This time around, we elected to pass on the Twenty Mule Team Borax exhibit, having seen it years ago, but it came up again in a strange conversation on our way down from Telescope Peak. For several miles, we’d been passing scattered piles of shit along the road, and wondered about its origin.
Until we had to stop the truck.
And then we knew what had become of the Twenty Mule Team.
Death Valley is known as a land of extremes. From atop Telescope Peak (the highest point in the park at 11,043′) it’s possible to see the highest point in America (Mt. Whitney at 14,505′) and the lowest point in North America (Badwater Basin at -282′)–all from the same spot. The Panamint towers on the west hold onto snow for three months of the year during winter, while the valley below is the driest place in North America, with annual rainfall under 2 inches. Temperatures have ranged from 134° F to 15° F at Furnace Creek’s weather station.
At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest National Park outside Alaska. The park is 140 miles long and demands reliable transportation due to its vast and unforgiving character. Nearly 1000 miles of pavement and dirt roads provide access to numerable sights, but the conditions are so punishing, that picking and choosing what to see and do requires reasonability.
With only two days to see the park, Leah and I split our tour around the park’s extremes: on day one, we’d drive the busy low elevation roads–where the weather reigns hotter than anywhere else in the western hemisphere–to explore highlights to the east; and on day two, we’d travel the remote off-road trails to the west, in search of cooler mountain air.
To make it easier on ourselves, we parked the Airstream on an expansive open gravel lot at Stovepipe Wells, where a dozen other trailers and coaches joined us as we listened to early morning howls from a pack of coyotes hunting the birds that frequent the septic pump at the far end of the campground.
A restless night gave way to a convenient start the following day, with a quick trip (almost unheard of in this National Park) around the bend to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Wandering out to the highest ridge at 100 ft. can be arduous, as the shifting sand will swallow every step.
However, better traction is available in the dune valleys, where the hard crust anchors the creosote and mesquite shrubs.
We continued past Furnace Creek…
until we reached the Golden Canyon. With the sun arcing across the eastern sky, we wove our way through the passage,
always hugging the canyon walls where we could for a chance at shady salvation.
While the sun was relentless, it was the scenery that left us breathless.
Back in the truck with the air conditioning cranked to recovery mode, we took CA-190 past the Artists Drive detour, and turned onto a last ditch road that resembled the landscape. At the end of the quarter-mile was a large clearing smack in the middle of an alien landscape called Devils Golf Course*, an immense arena of jagged rock salt deposits turned into land mines that makes for hazardous hiking.
While no one can ever prepare for surviving in extreme heat for extended periods of time (by now it was now 103° F), we were ready to take our chances in Badwater Basin–the hottest and deepest place in America.
Walking onto salt flats that cover 200 sq miles sounds as overwhelming as it should,
…yet the impression of watching people walk out so far they almost disappear, helps put the enormity of Badwater Basin into perspective.
Leah and I u-turned from this point, and back-tracked to Artist Drive–nine miles of looping and dipping black-top that weaves through narrow rock channels until it opens onto a gargantuan portion of Neapolitan ice cream known as Artists Palette.
Five million years of eruptions altered by heat and shaped by wind and water has produced a spectrum of colors across the slopes. On closer inspection, the colors are surreal.
While the truck had enough fuel to carry us another two-hundred miles, Leah and I were running out of gas. As we’d ride from one spot to another, we’d repeat the same refrain throughout the day: “Oh, wow! Did you see that? That was amazing! How is that even possible?” We were living on fumes of inspiration.
We closed the day with a visit to Zabriskie Point,
a magical setting that showcases the harsh beauty that makes Death Valley so unforgettable, and a place that can awaken the hibernating soul within us. Some go so far as to breach the safety of the overlook, and climb closer to the edge to symbolically feel closer to their personal truth.
One such group of chanting and meditating hippies was seated on plush mats near the cliff edge, their diaphanous silks of many colors flowing in the hot breeze. They were seemingly oblivious to the large number of amateur shutterbugs who were standing on the observation platform and complaining about their compromised view of the Badlands.
Since I believe that we all share the same view equally, I took a narrow path down to where they were sitting to set up my camera shot. I nodded politely as I crossed their viewing angle, and bid them hello.
“I’ll bet their grumbling up there about how we’re spoiling the view for them,” declared the Elder.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of that going on,” I indicated, “but the light won’t be like this forever, so ‘I’m not gonna waste my shot.’”
Elder stated, “Y’know, if they were that bummed out, they’d come down here the same as you”
Setting up my shot, with my back to Elder, I commented, “That’s true, but many aren’t as bold as you, and just as many can’t physically make the climb down here. Figure it out!… While you’re praying for world peace, you’re also ignoring the needs of people right behind you.”
“I guess that’s true,” noted the Eldress.
I took the shot…
and hiked back to where Leah was standing.
“Y’know that group of hippies below us? I think they’re leaving,” I announced.
“That’s gonna make a bunch of people happy,” predicted Leah.
When I saw them rolling up their mats, I figured that like me, they probably had enough heat for one day, or they finally came to their senses before the heat robbed them of their last strand of reasonability.
* Not a Trump® property yet, but the family is working on it!