Thursday, August 26, 2010
I walked into another canyon today, another mouth gaping open toward the great valley, another alluvial fan like an out-hanging tongue where deposits of river wash slope down and spread like the full skirt of a sitting woman. But in the mouth of this canyon, I see not the dry rocks of yesterday, but rather some green things, alien to this unvegetated world.
On approach, these are not mirage, but truly green plants. Could a summertime flow of water be feeding these trees?
Now I hear an unmistakable trickle, and soon a creek appears, water flowing in the hot, dry desert! And to make the irony complete, I encounter a log crossing, the same kind that gave me so much trouble in the Sierras a few weeks ago. Sorry, no ripped pants this time.
And within this creek a strange purple growth, somehow not surprising in a creek that doesn’t belong, a creek that defies the nature of Death Valley
I follow upstream, and chuckle at calling it that, when “upstream” has always meant “up the dry, rocky bed of some past flow of water.” And here along this creek, the lushest growth of water-loving plants imaginable. The mesquite and cacti on these dry hills must place their faith in places like this, imagined, but never seen, a beautiful afterlife.
I come to a waterfall with a pool below it and can go upstream no further. They call it Darwin Falls, and it’s not far from Panamint Springs—a restaurant and hotel on the west side of the valley. It’s a rough three-mile road getting to the trailhead, and rough scramble up to the falls, but a unique place to visit if you like solitude and a break from dry desolation.
The near-full moon was high in the western sky this morning, two days after its fullness. It brightened the drive in predawn as it will tomorrow when I drive home. There, I will feel less aware of my own littleness, which stands out plain here where horizons spread out and roll back into enormous distance. Here at noontime I have to go inside myself for shade, lacking any trees or even rocks to block the sun. I could return here, to this place where people are few. I’d come to smooth out the wrinkles in my mind created by too much civilization. When I return home, the bright sun will brighten the tall grasses, standing upright where my feet had trodden them flat, and I’ll recover the friends I left there with an alien scent they will be curious about.
A little bit of the Grand Canyon graces the drive back to Beatty, and a lion perches on a hill; they will stay here.
El Portal Motel in Beatty is as plush and homey as any five-star resort. It provided for all my needs.