Friday, February 8, 2013

Eolian dream

After five clear, 80-degree days change was in the air. In Death Valley weather when it comes is hardly ever rain.

After dinner the breeze picked up. We lingered for a while, socializing. After dark it fledged into wind, more and more insistent, pushing from the south in waves. The campground at Furnace Creek lies in a huge basin, a former lake. Gusts sweep across the flats, collecting sand and dirt and mysterious powders. Redistributing the loot all over the valley.

We took refuge in tents. It was the only thing to do. The air became weirdly warm as the gusts grew stronger. Lucky for us a backpacking tent will flex under load, absorbing the force and springing back to its original shape. The alternative is turning into a tumbleweed and rolling away intact. When the ceiling of the tent collapses, brushing your face, you still hold your breath. It pops back up as if nothing happened.

8:42 pm. Long night ahead. We lay in the dark, facing the sky, trying to read by headlamp. Periodically a gust hit, flexing the wall of the tent. After a moment a huge puff of particles drifted past our lights. Right under the fly and through the ventilating mesh. 

Despite no real physical danger we were hostages. An involuntary baptism: borax, volcanic ash, silica, dust, salt, gypsum. Minerals. In teeth, hair, sleeping bags, clothing. Someone said the wind gave up at 3:30. At dawn everything was calm again.

All around Death Valley you'll find dramatic, ominous names: Dante's View, Badwater, Hell's Gate, Devil's Golf Course, Devil's Cornfield. Given by the white man, marking outrage or disappointment or both. We think things should be a certain way. Accommodating.

For five days we had our way. Great company and food. Beautiful roads with little traffic. Afternoons at the spring-fed pool. Palm trees overhead. Clean skin and hair, winter sun.

First thing I shook out the sleeping bags. Then it was the usual oatmeal and coffee. About two-thirds of camp packed up and left; we said goodbye. Cautiously headed for a canyon where wind has been working for thousands of years. Stared at the eroded rock and imagined how that was done. Waves of symmetry and chaos, merging. The waves looked soft and inviting, almost like bedcovers in red, gold, purple, beige. Not the dull plaster dust that settled on camp during the night.

But in fact, it was.


  1. Glad to hear you got the five days - I can imagine that now is a much better time to ride through DV than...say... July. ;)
    Hope you post again soon and that everything's okay.

    1. Oh totally! For the first 5 days we could not have asked for better weather. There is no escaping wind in Death Valley.