A Trip into Death



Explorer in the sand

I’d always wanted to go to Death Valley, ever since reading about it in a film studies class in college. A silent film (I wish I could remember what)* had been shot there in the hottest months under a very intense director who made them shoot almost a hundred hours, resulting in a number of near deaths of the cast and crew. I wasn’t drawn to the deaths or the sadistic director, or maybe I was, who knows? But, I was fascinated by the idea of this desolate place.

So, I coerced my best adventurers to drive five hours out into the desert to stay in a trailer on a hot spring. From there we would head into the park and make our way back to Los Angeles.

We arrived in our tiny town (I’m actually not sure it qualifies as a town officially) and found our way to our Airbnb, a little trailer on a most eccentric property owned by our host Justin, who’d inherited it from his father Mac. Justin preserved his father’s vision, which consists of many sculptures and a row of bathtubs looking out onto what was once a river before it dried up many years ago. Mac added to this setup with a dock, a boat and a lighthouse, all homages to a river that never was (well, not in his lifetime anyhow). Is it weird? Absolutely. But it’s also wonderful. The property consists of a main house and a few trailers and this place is a mecca for travelers from all over. While we were there we met a girl from Paris and a couple from Germany, three among many international visitors according to Justin.

Justin, the friendliest and most welcoming host I’ve ever encountered, invited us to have dinner with him and his other guests at the local café which was shutting down for the season. So there we went and delighted ourselves with live music from the locals and a bottle of wine that Justin brought along to share. It was a surreal experience, but there was something magical in it all. Afterwards, we returned to our trailer and soaked in the hot springs looking out onto the not river. Those bathtubs I mentioned? They’re connected to pipes that deliver water from the area’s natural hot springs. As a treat, Justin brought us some clay that we rubbed on our faces, an expensive facial at a fraction of the cost. I now covet that clay. My face has never felt softer.

In the morning, we woke up, bid our goodbyes to Justin, amid promises that we’d be back (and we would be. Stay tuned for an upcoming return to Death Valley post), and headed into the park.

Death Valley is an amazing place. Firstly, it’s gigantic. You could spend days and not cover it all. In addition, it’s like visiting a million different parks in one. You go from salt desert, cracked earth, to lush wildflowers, to rocky vistas, to sand dunes and everything in between. It’s a must see for everyone. And, depending on how much you want to rough it, there are multiple options. You can stay in the park at the height of luxury, or you can rough it in a tent. The choice is yours. Regardless, you have to go. It’s a wonder.

We drove home full of excitement, eager to go back to capture the stars.

*I remembered! It was Erich von Stroheim’s Greed. Stroheim was notorious for being a perfectionist and his original cut of the film ran 10 hours.

#deathvalley #Adventure #desert

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All images © Katherine Barcsay