Shinazy’s trip to Death Valley
For four weeks starting mid February the North American desert is in bloom. Even in the hottest, driest desert, Death Valley is awash in flowers. Some are tiny; these are the ones you only notice when you bend to tie your shoelaces. Others hide among the protected thorns offered by otherwise menacing plants. Regardless if the winter rains make puddles or ponds, the desert will put forth a floral spectacle.
Appreciating the desert’s Spring display was among the lessons my grandparents, Gigs and Bussie, taught me. From age six to sixteen, I accompanied them into the California deserts to hunt for unusual rocks and survey the annual color splash. Our camping trips were simple excursions. The day before our departure, Bussie would pack the station wagon with survival provisions. I was an observant and helpful child, so now as an adult I thought I too could attempt a similar journey.
As with any journey I started with a plan: what clothes to pack, route to take, canned rations and tools to bring. For weeks, every time a needed item passed through my thoughts I’d add it to The List. Since I was going alone into the Death Valley wilderness I had to ensure I remembered everything – if I did not bring it, there was no place to get it.
Part of the fun concerning this trip was to duplicate how my grandparents travelled, so I left the GPS and cell phone at home. I never went online to plot my route. With confidence, a paper map, and my one-’n-only credit card I set off to rough-it in the outback. The only thing I needed to buy was gas. I was prepared!
300 miles into the trip I encountered the first flaw in The Plan. What my memory neglected to tell me was my grandparents only used cash; plastic money had yet entered their lives. With teaspoons of gas remaining in my truck’s tank, the station attendant reproached me, “Your card’s no good.” I never carry cash; I get frequent flyer miles charging … everything.
The word ‘stranded’ seized my mind. What was an electronically dependent girl masquerading as a pioneer to do? A frantic call to CitiBank, who informed me, “Your card was hacked.” This news told me why my only source of currency was corrupted, but did not help me buy fuel to resume my expedition. However, after I answered every security question about my life since birth, CitiBank agreed to allow me to purchase gas, but absolutely nothing else. And, I had to call them before every purchase. It was then I realized, “Maybe some of the old timer ways had benefits.”
With the credit card crisis cured I continued, knowing this one lapse in judgment was the only mistake I made. Although I had no paper money I did have a paper map. But time had a surprise for me. It seems today’s paper maps show less detail because “everyone has GPS.” No longer able to navigate my route, I asked a local for directions. This was my second faulty plan omen. After missing the you-can’t-miss-it intersection, it started to snow. I travelled up and up, mile after mile. The smaller the hole on the windshield became the more petrified I became.
Was panic going to turn me to stone before the zero temperature?
Where was a turn-off so I could escape?
What would my grandparents do?
Twelve hours, three snow flurries, and two gas refills after departing home I arrived at my campsite where I would build a fire and evaporate the day’s troubles. But, alas, the National Park Service had another plan. Posted on the sunburned table was a sign, “No Campfires”.
As I stood there in the Death Valley blackness, shrouded in every thread I packed, listening to my stomach symphony, I wondered . . . Did I pack the can opener?
photos courtesy shinazy & calsidyrose
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