Sharon's Summer

Sharon's Summer
Sharon Chooses High Elevation and High Temperature

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dante’s Inferno

Most of the forty-niners avoided this place, went another way to find gold.  But a few came to this spot and looked westward at this range of mountains from a basin that is now just west of Beatty, Nevada.  They figured it was just like the last twenty or so basins they had crossed, and would lead to another range of desert mountains, and this too would be followed by another basin.  So it had been these many weeks, and they were not good with maps to know exactly which range this was.

I drove up into these mountains as I had on each of the past three mornings, but today I did not coast down into the depths, but traversed along the range and viewed Death Valley from high above.  It must have shocked the forty-niners.  If they saw it in the morning, looking into the shadows, perhaps they recalled “the valley of the shadow of death” from the twenty-third psalm.  But they pressed doggedly onward to cross it, and those who survived called it Death Valley.

I stood at five-thousand feet on Dante’s view and looked westerly at Telescope Peak, eleven-thousand feet on the far side of the valley, zoomed in here at ten times.  On Sunday, I hope to stand on that summit after a three-thousand foot elevation climb on a seven-mile trail.

Not daring to look far below the rocky ledge I stand on, I can see Badwater and placed a circle on this picture at about the place where I stood yesterday. 

The old borax haul-road still twists through these hills as it did in the early 1900’s.  Here is a 20-mule-team rig as photographed by my uncle in 1938.  And here is my Toyota on the same road, the crunch of my tires on the gravel as Uncle Knowlton might have heard it. 

I wonder if he noticed the statue carved there above him, serene-looking, as if giving hope in this hostile place.

The shapes of these mountains are not like mirages on the desert—those shimmers of heat in the distance that appear as lakes or fountains to fool a thirsty traveler.  No, these forms are solid and close-at-hand.  They depict the inside of human brains, cerebral cortex which, if I stand here long enough, generates creatures from other worlds, or stately beings of this world, standing or sitting, watching or remembering or returning memory.


A spire stands over the valley of death, stoic and understanding, not caught up in the emotion of life’s end, having seen enough to cast it off with yesterday’s wind.

A trail leads north along the ridge from Dante’s View, where he never stood, but looked down upon an inferno that can’t be much different.

Those plants and animals who make it here take on a pragmatic view of life, having learned happiness in small pleasures.  They have given pleasure to this lone visitor, a satisfied knowing that I am not in control. 



  1. As good as National Geographic... but more like "Poetic Geographic."

  2. So strange that last creature... is it you??? Oh at first I thought it was a starfish! That strange mix of ocean depth and arid heights suggestiveness... but some strange dinosaur lizard I think, looking over its shoulder at us... we are watching you... lead on, oh wild lone adventurer!

  3. Ah shucks, Steven, you plum embarrass me. You too, Kath, to think that I have become so at ease in this place as to be confused with the enduring horned toad.

  4. When I was a child living in north Pomona in the 50s and early 60s, these horned lizards were prevalent running around in my backyard. Very fast little "dinosaur" Kathy! They complimented the fence lizards well. Funny that the fence lizards survived the constant threat of a youngsters grip, but no longer do we see the horned lizards in this area. Thankful for the harshness of the deserts that lend a hand in protecting the horned lizard from the environmental effects of man. Loving this journey Sharon!

  5. I just got caught up with you in the desert, Sharon, and must agree with Steven Radice's comment. Breathtaking photos!
    I am in awe and can hardly grasp the fulfillment you must be experiencing in this desolated yet beautiful valley. Onward! In good spirits!

  6. Plenty of horned lizards here, Gail, they make it where others fail.

    Thanks Erika, good to see you here, I added you to the email list.

  7. So nice to see the horned lizard, i read that they were endangered now.
    but you have brought one safely to my desktop
    the benefits of knowing a poet explorer!

    Nice to see the various rock formations and their colors. The one with the "spire" reminds me of my coffee icecream after its melted—and then I try to refreeze it. It slathers and folds into creamy layers and hardens in odd shapes. Looks tasty.

  8. It is a poet with imagination who sees ice cream in this hot place, I wonder what the horned toad would think of ice cream?

  9. I love the shot of the old wagon train, an interesting perspective on your blog, you usually don´t bring in outside shots. That adds another cool dimension, you may want to try this more often for clarity, nice.

  10. Hee hee I first thought Susan said "so nice to see the horned lizard, I hear you are endangered now"! Be careful Sharon you are endangered and the ice cream is after you. I too am happy Erika found you here!! Hopefully she can come to one of your salons to tell more about your journey.
    Michael that photo is special, I think Sharon had in mind to compare the place where her uncle took that photo?

  11. The lizard/toad and me are both endangered. So is the 20-mule-team wagon train my uncle photographed. We like our danger, live for it.

  12. Hee hee... I am waiting for you to turn into a 20~mule~team too! (Don't look at me, I'm there on the ranch making dinner for the 20 mules, driver and passengers!)