Death Valley to Sequoia
Fri 25 May 2012 - Sat 26 May 2012
On Friday, May 25, I woke up on the wrong side of bed in Death Valley National Park. The motel where we were staying advertised wifi, but through a satellite connection that was effectively useless. My best friend in Sydney had some worrying health news. I was tired of the desert. I missed trees. It was too hot and sunny. I had a crazy suspicion that being 280 feet below sea level was screwing with my head somehow. I knew I was feeling petulant, so I offered to drive; since I was apparently determined to have a bad day, I might as well play chauffeur and let Matt enjoy himself.
Before leaving aridity behind, I gritted my sulky teeth while piloting the Magnum to the incredible and strangely beautiful alien environments around the park. At Devil's Golf Course, so named because of the beyond-rough salt terrain, a wind began to blow that was strong enough to rock the car and nearly sweep Matt off his feet.
At our final stop, Natural Bridge, Matt decided he wanted to hike the half mile trail to the rock arch. As we pulled into the parking lot, closer and closer to the base of the rocky mountains, I watched the outside temperature reading on the dash climb quickly. 101 degrees ... 105 degrees ... 110 degrees ... 112 degrees. When the temperature reached 116 degrees, I drew the line. Nothing would get me out of that car into that temperature in the mood I was in, not even Matt looking disappointed as I dug in my heels and proposed waiting in the parking lot.
Matt had a good time hiking solo to the Natural Bridge regardless (he says the strong wind counteracted the intense heat), and when he returned, we struck out west, through a series of blinding dust storms.
The other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains greeted us with velvety green hills and orchards of citrus and berries. We had little time to enjoy it, however, as we raced toward Sequoia National Park, where we were planning to camp for the night. I was worried we wouldn't be able to find an available camp site before nightfall and kept my foot anxiously on the gas pedal, watching the temperature drop almost as quickly as it had risen in the desert as I steered the car around steep mountain curves. The air grew sharper and clouds rolled in. Icy rain occasionally fell around us.
Very suddenly, the typical forest canopy gave way in front of the car, and the sight that greeted us made my heart skip a beat. I gasped and cried out, pointing like an idiot child to the rust-colored tree-trunks that towered over the Douglas firs. Huge redwoods, their trunks wider than my armspan, and a little further up the road, the even more massive and breathtaking Methuselahs: giant sequoias.
I joined Greenpeace for a year when I was 11, and I guess I would consider myself an environmentalist, but I wouldn't call myself a tree-hugger. I do my part for conservation, but I'm not much of an activist. I have never given a thought to, say, chaining myself to a tree to protect it from loggers. But looking up at those sequoias was about as close as I have ever come to a religious experience. The sight of them, especially after days of desert dust, made me tremble. I thought about the centuries upon centuries that they had stood - thousands of years, for some of them - and I forgot all about everything that had left me stuck in a selfish bad mood all day. Pretty soon I was peering up through tears.
I think I would maybe die for those trees. I think they might have more right to be alive on this planet than I do, and that's a first for me.
Before we reached our campsite, the air temperature dropped below freezing, and as we parked and started a campfire, it began to snow. The low that night was 18 degrees Farenheit. We'd experienced a temperature fluctuation of nearly 100 degrees in less than 12 hours.
The snow made for some beautiful pictures of the forest the next morning, especially when we visited General Sherman - the largest living tree in the world, and about two and a half thousand years old.