279ft below sea level; the lowest place in North America – DEATH VALLEY. Doesn’t really seem like it would be all that interesting. Clearly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The trip we took out to the desert had nothing to do with much, other than to visit a place we have never been. We (both Chelsea and I) had no expectations (well at least I didn’t). Chelsea is super spiritual so she might have had an idea of what was about to happen; I, however, was clueless, except I knew it was going to be hot.
We were trying to get to our destination before the sun set. Our attempt to race the sun from Bakersfield to Death Valley, unfortunately, was futile. The sun sank in the sky faster then I have ever seen. Like a beautiful glowing brick of fire, it plummeted to the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. I didn’t really realize it then though. Only now as I reflect on the evening am I aware of its rapid decent. I should have known something special was about to happen. As the sky turned into Neapolitan Ice Cream we actually stopped the car and got out to bask in it. We have both lived in Nevada where the sunsets are nothing short of spectacular. Of all the countries I have been, nothing holds a candle to an autumn sunset in the High Sierras, this one however, rivaled some of the best. The sky exploded with purple, pink, orange, red and blazing yellow which made us both jump around, smile, feeling recharged and ALIVE!! But, just as the sun tucked itself behind the eggplant colored mountain range to the West, the mood changed drastically. It was extra dark. Not like super black but more like the absence of light kind of dark. Almost like my headlights were being absorbed by the darkness. Still at 1,000 feet above sea level I thought nothing of it and continued driving. Just before we dropped down into Searles Valley the road turned red. Like really red. It actually took us both by surprise. I said to Chelsea Is the road red now or am I tripping? I definitely was not. After returning I did a little research as to if it actually was red and of course, why. Turns out it could be an oxidation of the aggregate used in the asphalt in that area; creepy nonetheless. The changing of the road color juxtaposed with the deep darkness of the desert, set the tone for the rest of the evening. There was an air about the whole place. As we dropped down the canyon into the pitch black, I could actually feel the weight of the atmosphere as well as the heat. Within just a few seconds the temperature went from a calm 73° to a dramatic 105°. As a red head, I am pretty sensitive to temperature differences (ask anyone at the shop haha), weather slight or drastic. This was like nothing I have ever experienced. It was almost like exiting an air-conditioned airport into the piping hot Phoenix air.
After driving for what seemed like an eternity we finally see the sign, Elevation Sea Level then, 100 feet below sea level, and of course the final 200 feet below sea level. It actually got darker and darker as we, literally, descended into the abyss of Death Valley. We found a good camping spot and decided to make this our home for the evening. It was Sept 27th around 10pm and it was a Super Blood Moon. We were pretty bummed that we didn’t get to witness it, as during the entire eclipse the moon was masked by super thick cloud cover. She (the moon) wasn’t going to let us leave empty handed though; so it seemed. As I’m setting up the tent I notice the moon is starting to peak out from behind the darkness. We finished setting up camp, ate a late dinner and then decided to go explore. Other than a little creepy feeling in the air and the slight breeze that felt like a hair dryer being passed across your face, everything seemed fine; normal (ish). We walked through some shrubs into this clearing. Because the combination of the moon being so bright and the reflective nature of the light sand, at this moment I had forgotten it was midnight. I could see perfectly for at least 100 yards. The trees and brush were actually casting shadows on the ground. Its was insane. It looked like a bright sunny day but I was looking through super dark sunglasses. Even now I am at a loss for words. And the silence, oh my god the silence. I’ve been a SCUBA diver for almost 20 years and I have only experienced a quietness like this underwater. The term “The silence was deafening” could not have been more appropriate. We decided to split up for a few to have a little alone time in this beautiful, weird place that we had stumbled upon.
Then it got weird.
I decided to sit down, shirtless and shoeless on the ground. Just for a moment; to still myself and to listen. And listen I did. I felt this powerful urge to lay down. And as I did that, I immediately noticed how cool the ground was. It was also soft and hard at the same time. Kind of like a wrestling mat. I felt the ground give slightly as my shoulder blades snuggled into the oddly comfortable playa. The ground was hugging my hips and heels like a hard bed in a cheap motel room. I laid there for a moment soaking in the moon rays and admiring the size and brightness of it. I kept getting these compulsions to move a certain way or direction and to be still at the same time. I finally gave in. I placed my palms to the ground and I felt a strange breeze pass over me. Like a warm blanket. I then turned my feet so that the bottoms were flush with the earth below me. Then something happened. I immediately lost all feeling. Not in the sense of a numbness you get from sitting on your hand or when you get novocaine at the dentist, but more like I didn’t exist. I couldn’t tell if I was hot or cold, if the ground was below me or not, or if it was light or dark. I wasn’t happy or sad, anxious or calm, I wasn’t either confident or afraid. I no longer knew what time it was or where I was. I couldn’t even tell the difference between my body and the ground. Almost as if we had become one. It all happened so fast I didn’t even know what was going on until later. As I laid there, completely neutral to everything inside of me and around me I noticed the clouds stopped moving. Only then did I realize what was happening. (Writing this now is giving me the craziest goose bumps). A smile washed across my face like a kid that has just caught a glimpse of all the presents under the tree. He/she has no idea what is in those brilliantly colored packages but the wonderment just takes over their entire body. Everything was in perfect alignment and symmetry. Just as I am starting to enjoy this experience a bat flies over me, almost as to say its time to wake up. I felt a presence near me and as I look to my right, about 6 inches from my face was a GIANT black beetle, barreling down on me like a running back. It didn’t startle me though. Like I was expecting it to be there. I sat up and hung out with the little dude for a few minutes. And as he turned away and hiked off into the distance I laid back down. I tried everything in my power to recreate what had just happened. Nothing worked. Palms down, lay still, look at the moon; nothing. Frustrated, I sat up and reflected on what had just happened, and just then, I became severely overwhelmed. Like I just had the most stressful day of my life and just as fast as it came, it was gone. I felt AMAZING!! Refreshed. I felt like I left my body or like I just had the bet massage ever! I quickly realized that I needed to tell Chelsea, but of course she was no where to be found, as she was doing her thing on the other side of the plateau.
Growing up with an outdoorsman for a father, I am no stranger to nature. I’ve hiked 100’s of miles and stayed countless nights out in the wilderness; hunting, fishing, or just exploring. I have always felt a kinship with nature. Nothing like this, not a literal connection where I couldn’t actually tell the difference between my body and the earth below me. I can only hope that this is just the beginning of a new and wonderful relationship with this planet, the spirits that inhabit it and the start of my journey that I am desperately in need of joining in on. Thank you for taking the time to read my nonsense! I’ll see you out there and…Lets Get Weird!!