Loneliness in Death Valley

WOW! It’s been quite a long time since I’ve made a blog post on here, hasn’t it? I had a lot of goals and plans for this year. For obvious reasons, many of those didn’t actually happen.

I started the year with really high hopes. Felt like I could truly start a clean slate with things, you know? The big thing was I started my new role at my favorite place to work and was diving deep into the all the changes and duties that entailed. I was eagerly awaiting the end of winter and the start of spring. I was trying to make a renewed attempt at reviving and fostering relationships I have with many people near and dear to my heart. Just as I was getting settled into and comfortable with my new focus in life, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

My first trip of the year, to Charleston, South Carolina, was immediately canceled. Everything had shut down. No one knew what was going to happen or how things would end up. Charleston was going to be more of a city visit, rather than a hiking visit, although I had a few long hikes planned in the nearby Francis Marion National Forest. Little did I know at the time that this bummer of a canceled trip would lead to the utter highlight of my entire year.

For the first few months of the pandemic, I was hopeful it wouldn’t be that bad and still looked forward to my planned trip to Glacier National Park. I took it easy with hiking since the local parks got over-crowded and I was hesitant to go outside my county. Eventually, I did venture further out for some great hikes nearby but was adamant about not stopping in any towns or gas stations. Still, I avoided road trips of any kind, especially since New Mexico was and still is pretty shut down. After a short while, it became clear a trip to Glacier National Park wasn’t feasible as Montana and surrounding states had a huge spike in cases due to all the visitors going to those remote areas.

So, the summer was a very lackluster one for me. After my experiences in 2018 and 2019, I was disappointed and entirely too frustrated but better safe than sorry, right?

Except my depression, anxiety, and need to self-isolate intensified greatly. I slipped down and deep. I’m going to be real here, my suicidal ideation jumped ten-fold. There are a lot of factors that contributed to this and I can’t honestly blame the pandemic entirely for this. Confession, I have purposely created many happy memories on a specific local hike to deter me from ever wanting to walk off a cliff that is available right there off the trail. I have thought about that cliff a lot this past year.

Please don’t worry about me. There’s a difference between suicidal ideation and actually being at risk of it (at least in my world). I have a lot of things to look forward to. One of those many things is hiking.

Thanks to the canceled trip to Charleston, which was supposed to be a family trip for my mom and me, the tickets were turned into vouchers that had to be used by the end of the year. During the summer, COVID-19 cases went down and it seemed okay to do a trip elsewhere so we went out to Las Vegas. The goal of this trip was to visit some family and I was so excited about that part but, another part of me immediately set eyes on where to hike.

Las Vegas is my hometown and I love it so very much, but it’s a place I’m glad to be from rather than still live there. Apologies to my Vegas friends and family, haha, for saying this. It’s a really fun city with a lot to do besides gambling and drinking (although the craft beer scene leaves a lot to be desired for such a large city!). The real draw of Vegas for me these days is the surrounding desert.

Like how Colorado has beautiful and incredible mountains, Nevada, at least in the Las Vegas area, has beautiful and incredible desert. My first full day there, I spent at the Valley of Fire State Park.

Fire Wave Trail

What a phenomenal piece of desert! Beautiful geology and fun little canyons to adventure through. I combined a couple trails called White Domes and Fire Wave to create two loops of a hike. Loops are my favorite kind of hikes! Lots of scrambling and way-finding but just so, so, so much fun. What’s nice about Las Vegas and the surrounding regions, is the weather is still warm, sometimes hot, even in mid-November. I finished the two loops and did another quick jaunt up to Elephant Rock, which is essentially just an arch that is oddly similar to the side profile of an elephant.

The next day, though? That would be the start of my real focus of this trip. Death Valley. Ironically enough, the white people given name of Death Valley would bring me so much life. And, I must say, HOLY SHIT.

See, Death Valley has been on my list of National Parks to visit but it was low on the list. I’ve wanted to go but, like Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, it just doesn’t photograph well. Yeah, you see some nice long-exposure photos of the night sky and there are a few other shots that are neat but nothing I’ve seen that made me think, “Holy wow! I must visit this place!” Like Capitol Reef, it’s a place you need to visit and experience your own self to realize how incredible and magical it all is. The only reason I went to Death Valley on this trip was because it was a National Park close enough to Las Vegas.

I woke up at 3AM and drove the two plus hours to an area in Death Valley called Zabriskie Point because I had read the sunrises there are, as the kids say, on fleek. I pulled into the parking lot with the burgeoning light in the sky and scrambled up to the viewpoint and my jaw absolutely fucking dropped. It was confirmed this place just needs to be experienced because photos don’t do it justice. I took so many pictures and they’re all disappointedly bad.

Zabriskie Point

As you can see above, the photo may look okay but it just doesn’t do it justice compared to witnessing this sunrise in person. The waves and striations and colors and patterns and so much more in the rocks engulfed my view as I peered across the landscape. I moved to different areas of the outlook and just sat and watched the landscape change colors as the sun moved ever slowly above the landscape. Once the sun got into the sky enough, I was stoked to take advantage of the daylight and traverse through Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch to get my first taste of Death Valley. Yes, I had to covertly cover my tears of happiness at the magnificence I was seeing with my own eyes.

Once I got done with that nearly eight mile hike, I drove to a nearby town in Nevada called Beatty for lunch. It’s a tiny place with a giant casino because, of course, that is a defining feature of many areas in Nevada. I went back to my hotel room in the other nearby town of Pahrump and had a long and restful sleep. It got me fully prepared for another full day to spend in Death Valley!

This time, I went up to Mosaic Canyon and did a nice, relaxing, albeit arduous hike up through there. The thing about Death Valley is a lot of the canyons are developed more as washes. These washes are a result of intense desert storms that cause flash floods. These are extremely powerful floods that can cause years of erosion in just one event. But then there were parts of the canyon that had such smoothly carved cuts that were a blast to climb over since it looked like eons of geology had all compressed down into minuscule layers.

After this hike, I went up to the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. Death Valley has two major sand dunes areas. While not quite as huge as the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, this was still extremely impressive.

Then it was time to visit the last place I had on my list. Badwater Basin. I was absolutely stunned at this area! Looked like I was walking on frozen ice for miles when it really was just ancient sea water that had turned into salt deposits. Being 282 feet below sea level and being in the lowest dry land of the norther hemisphere is such an experience. Like how I started the trip watching the sunrise at Zabriskie Point, I watched the sunset at Badwater Basin. I sat down on the salt and just absorbed the entire moment. Yes, like I did at the sunrise, I shed some happy tears at the sunset. Some of it was sad, though, knowing I was ending this trip that completely caught me by surprise.

I finished my trip home with an accidentally too-long hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just outside of Las Vegas. If you live in Vegas and don’t have a seasonal pass there, WHY!? Such a beautiful and fun place to visit and explore. I had been there as a kid and don’t remember much from it but I did go back in 2017 and hike the Icebox Canyon trail and fell so in love with the trail. This time, I combined the Calico Hills and Calico Tanks trails and it was a BLAST! Scrambling in parts and felt like I was back in Colorado plus the view of the Las Vegas valley at the top was phenomenal, especially since I timed it wrong and hiked back in the dark so I could see all the lights of the barren desert.

The desert is a magical and wondrous place. I am so happy I had a chance to go back to Vegas but not do the typical Vegas stuff, you know? Instead, I went and visited a new (to me) State Park and National Park along with revisiting Red Rock Canyon and exploring more of it. Las Vegas is my hometown and, while Colorado is truly my home now, I’m so happy I get these chances to explore and expand upon my hometown in ways I never thought possible.

This trip was so necessary after the year 2020 has been. I had a few canceled trips this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but it was nice to get to go on at least one single vacation and hiking trip outside of Colorado. I’ve gathered all of my canceled 2020 hikes up into the 2021 plans so expect a HEAVY year coming soon. Just keeping my fingers crossed things get better with the pandemic and my mental health.

But, getting the opportunity to literally cry at the sunrise and then, later, cry at the sunset in Death Valley brought so much life to me. Funny how much beauty and life a place called Death Valley can bring to one.

Life is incredible and life really fucking sucks. Just have to try so hard to focus on the former rather than the latter.

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