Up Furnace Creek

A couple dances on the Great Salt Lake on March 13,2020

The problem was, frankly, everything. Comically so if it would have been in hindsight. As I considered the next move in a series of already hasty decisions, the wind snapped a branch from an evergreen and collapsed into the five foot wall of snow that had accumulated overnight outside the front door. The mountain house had a back door but, like most properties in the dead of winter, only one entrance had been even marginally maintained. My gloves and shoes were still wet from barreling myself through the snow upon arrival in the dark after a seventeen hour drive through hellish thoughts and alarmingly calm and noticeably fake public broadcasts. I weighed my options as heavy as the snow falling outside.

I needed to feel productive, in control of something. Buying staples from the grocery felt like a good directive. After a good sweat-inducing shovel that resulted in the chills due to hunger and exhaustion, I writhed to the Truckee Safeway.

The produce section was heaped with cantaloupe, kiwi and pads of cactus. A few wrinkly turnips. Apparently no one wants to eat tropical fruit when faced with a global disaster. It’s too much of a mockery.

Time is measureless, vague.

For dinner, I dine on winter scrubs and the outcast tropical fruit. The combination of bitter and sweet tastes seem to be a ruthless reflection of my new unemployment status during a time when you can’t go anywhere.

The daytime light has been on a constant dimmer for days. It is as though I am in my grandmother’s nursing home room: shutters drawn, curtains drawn, a yellow glow to the off-white walls, silence besides the grim underlying fact that supersedes the scene. 

The snow hasn’t stopped but I feel the urge to get out of the Valley – there is an innate sense of urgency to relocate. I pack the car, leave the last turnip in the refrigerator. I consider taking all of the toilet paper but opt for half as to not be a total jerk.

Driving around the Lake, vintage neon signs sit lights out. Casinos declare they are temporarily closed. There is no traffic – all the cars seem to be at the grocery store.

// 9 hours and 10 climate zones later, I stand on the side of Hwy 395 looking out at the Owen’s valley. The icy wind is scathing yet I do not acknowledge it until I realize my zipper is frozen and has drawn blood from my neck. Horses graze below, hardly moving. A diorama. Between the radio static I hear Trump’s voice assessing the situation. I go back to the car, turn it off. Look at the map. Death Valley seems like an appropriate destination.

Sand in the teeth, Death Valley March 2020

At the first outpost in the Valley, my nostrils scentilate with the sandpaper smell of the desert. Dusty, devoid of life, warm. This is exactly the place I was looking for. Service-less, slow solitude. I scan the map and look at the drawing of tonight’s weather forecast: storms. Per is customary with ragged outposts, the weathered matron, who was already ornery before I arrived (and at birth), is now glowering at me on her heels. I’ve apparently gone over the acceptable amount of minisculely allotted time looking at the laminated map (60 seconds) and I have inferred too many questions of an otherwise desolate post (none). Just to drive the blade in, I ask if there are any color postcards.

I have a choice it appears. In a sick sense of pervasion, there is a 5-star hotel called the Oasis of Death Valley. Remington reproductions and marble columns complete with a lap pool, 500 count Egyptian threads, and Scottish salmon.

I scan the map. In which range should I spend the day hiking tomorrow? Coffin Peak in the Black Mountains? How about somewhere in the Last Chance Range? Funeral Peak?

Andy the Waiter mentions the 85 yo proprietor is planning to fly down on his private plane to prove it’s safe to travel. I look around at the Remington reproductions. Bruschetta and Chablis under a mahogany afterglow, I know what it felt like on the last evening on the Titanic.

Getting granular, the salt flats of Death Valley, March 2020