Death Valley is one of the lowest, driest, and most diverse desert regions in the world.
A land where expanses of salt crystals stand, lie and assume a multitude of sizes and shapes on the valley floor.
A land where the only running water is a small creek aptly named Salt Creek which is four times more saline than any ocean in the world.
A land with sand dunes over four hundred feet tall which are re-sculpted into new patterns with the shifting and varying winds.
A land that is dry, receiving less than two inches of rain per year and has an evaporation rate seventy-five times faster than an average humidity climate.
The surrounding mountains, the valley floor, the canyons, the dunes, and the ancient but now sandy lake beds are now dry. They, however, carry the unmistakable mark of torrents, eddies, trickles, and the gushing power of water over millions of years of time.
We just returned from a magical trip to these lands. I took my partner, Ian there on a surprise trip for a milestone decade birthday he celebrated recently. The surprise was fun and the time in communion with the land was a gift of the most primal kind.
A git of weather drama in one of the most arid places on Earth.
A gift of the confluence of change.
A gift of the cycles of Nature unfolding right before our eyes, within our hearts, and deeply sensed in our bodies.
Thank you Death Valley. The magic of life creating life lives on within you, within us, and within our world.
May we all deeply know that what is in front of us is not always so. Reality can shift quickly as if by magic. We just have to be open, curious, humble, grateful, and fearless to imagine and co-create a new world!
May It Be So!
I share below a magical moment story from our recent trip.
We decided to rent a 4 x 4 jeep to access a special area known as The Racetrack or The Playa. It was highly recommended. The Racetrack is in a remote area in the center of the National Park where the mysterious moving rocks lie. Scientists have only recently discovered how this amazing feat occurs. It takes the perfect conditions of snow, sun, wind, temperature, timing, and I say an added dose of deep wonder thrown in!
We took off early in the morning for our 3 1/2 hour drive to The Racetrack. One hour north on a paved road to a ancient volcanic crater called Ubehebe Crater and the 2 1/2 hours south on a rough road. There was new snow from the night before on the surrounding Panamint Mountains to the east and the Grapevine Mountains to the west. The sky was crystal clear, blue as can be, and the air crisp as we climbed in elevation from two hundred fifty feet below sea level to an elevation of four thousand feet at The Racetrack.
We encountered no one on the drive except for the playful and friendly beings of the Joshua Tree and Teddybear Cholla cacti that dotted the landscape for about an eight mile section of the drive. The sunlight danced and glinted off the tidbits, globs, and drops of snow that were nestled in the arms and hung from the crevices of the cacti.
I have not been blessed to see snow on cacti in the glaring sun until then! What a gift. We slowly drove out of the cacti haven and fondly waved goodbye. We’ll be back!
Coming around the corner we had our first glimpse of The Racetrack. It was at that moment I had a sinking realization. The Racetrack itself was covered with about an inch of new snow and it dawned on me that we were likely not going to be able to see the tracks of the moving rocks in the sand due to the new snow. What a paradox! Serene beauty with the new snow will obscure our intent in coming all this way. Our hearts dropped for a moment with the realization. We pushed on.
The Racetrack or The Playa is an ancient oval-shaped sandy expanse that was once a lake. It is huge and surrounded on three sides by mountains. it has an ‘island’ of rock at the north end that is called The Grandstand. As if the moving rocks were like cars ‘racing’ across The Playa with the spectators of the sun, moon, and the passage of time sitting in The Grandstand taking it all in.
What we experienced was a large expanse covered in about an inch of fresh snow. There was one other couple who had also rented a jeep just ahead of us. They were standing at the edge of The Playa taking it all in. They appeared to look for a few moments and then proceeded to get back in their jeep and leave.
It was now only Ian, I, and the land. A sacred moment. We took off walking across the desert to a peak at the opposite edge of The Playa following fresh coyote and hare tracks. We kept taking in The Playa and were looking for any signs of the depression of the tracks from the rocks under the snow.
Sunlight was strong, clear, and beautiful here at 4000 feet in the desert. Dark, light, red, and golden mountains contained the vast expanse of snow covered sand. Our imaginations kept wondering and seeking to see a ‘track’ from a now stationary rock.
We saw many rocks of all sizes dotting the expanse of The Playa. As we traversed across the desert we saw hedgehog and barrel cacti just starting to sprout some new buds as well as an occasional prickly pear cactus. We saw signs of life here in this land.
We frequently glanced back to take in The Playa and watched the light dance off the snow crystals. As we neared the top of the peak, about a 400 foot climb, it struck me that around the near edges of The Playa I was beginning to see a ring of sand. It appeared that the snow was melting!
I mentioned it to Ian and he initially questioned what I believed I was observing. We found a lovely outcropping just below the summit where we were directly looking down on The Playa. We could see a series of rock tracks under the snow a couple of hundred feet below us.
My sight glanced again across The Playa edges and I was certain there was now a larger expanse of sand becoming exposed. We both paused and just took it in. Over the next ten minutes as we settled in to sit comfortably on the rocks and got our lunches out, I kept taking in the beauty of The Playa out in front of us.
With one of those glances, I could now see sand becoming exposed out near the center of The Playa and the ‘edges’ of exposed sand were now feet instead of inches in diameter. The snow was melting and evaporating before our eyes! Incredible!
What a gift of transformation. A gift of an opportunity to be a witness to a deep moment of primal change. In the external environment where snow becomes mist and rock becomes absolutely changed. Concurrently in our internal environment where awe, wonder, and complete joy arose.
Over the next nearly ninety minutes we watched about 90% of the snow evaporate and melt from The Playa and an absolutely magical o1/2″ -1″ ‘pond’ of water appear on the surface of The Playa with all the surrounding mountains now reflected in it’s shimmering surface.
There was a magical moment somewhere in there where we experienced about three to four minutes of ‘steam’ arise on The Playa in the distance and an illusion of a ‘gully’ appeared on The Playa floor. It appeared that there was a gully on The Playa where the steam was arising from. Over the next few minutes and with the aid of binoculars we realized we were being gifted the absolute moment of change.
As the snow evaporated and melted, the mist arose, and the new water reflected the two tone colors of the surrounding mountains forming what appeared to be the gully. But wait! Now we could see it. It was a complete mirror image in the ‘pond’ on The Playa of what surrounded The Playa. There was no gully. Reality changed before our eyes!
My heart filled with gratitude, humility, amazement, joy, and the deep touching of beauty. What a magical gift!
It was time to leave and we continued to watch the surrounding mountains’ snow evaporate as we walked back to the jeep. Fully amazed. Fully touched. Deeply.
The magic of the moving rocks is now understood to occur when many conditions align. When it is cold enough for snow to fall and then the next day the sun is warm enough to melt that snow into a ‘pond’ of water on The Playa. If the water does not all evaporate by the time freezing temps set in then the thin layer of water will freeze. If the wind then blows in just the right way, the rocks will now slide across the then icy veneer.
If we would have been able to camp out that evening maybe the next morning the rocks would have ‘raced’ across The Racetrack. Racing more like care than cars. We’ll never know but the magic we were gifted we will never forget. Only the Sun, the Moon and the passage of time ‘sitting’ there in The Grandstand truly know.