Badwater Basin, Death Valley, U.S.A.


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There’s a sign above fuel prices at the gas station that says “last gas before Death Valley”.

Car parked, back stretched, shades on. I enter the shop. In it, I find food and beverage, various phone chargers and batteries, newspapers, slot machines, decks of cards, an ATM, cigarettes, alcohol and the only thing a normal human would require to survive a drive across the desert: water. There’s a little hand-written note on the wall behind the counter. It says, “Your health matters, shop for nutrient items here”. I read it twice. This is the same shop that wants me to buy frozen dried turkey sticks, the same shop that has corn grains, spicy chips and sugary drinks on sale, and alcohol, when the temperature outside is about a trillion F°; this very same shop is using a scribbled piece of paper to demonstrate its worry about my personal health. Irony abounds. The crumpled notes in my pockets are enough to pay for fuel and water, but the woman behind the counter, about 40 years of age and 400 stones of weight, is not having it. She’s not entirely satisfied yet and asks, “Care for some soda?”

Not really, no. The worst thing about the US, by a country mile, or “bar none” as the Americans would say, is everyone’s obsession with soda. With fizzy, sparkling, sugary drinks. I drink coffee or beer, and water, that’s about it, and Americans are always staggered when I say no to soda. Which I do. All the time.

Disappointed, she takes the money and off I go.

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The fuel tank in the car is full of petrol/gasoline, depending on where you picked your accent from, there are several bottles of cold water in the cabin, and despite our best efforts with the air-con, it will be as hot as a cup of tea in less than a few hours.

Death Valley isn’t particularly deadly anymore.

To start with, it is a surprisingly easy place to get around. Perhaps it is because of the logical and arterial structure of the roads that form a maze that will lead you, almost inevitably and provided you simply keep going, to either Vegas, L.A. or Arizona, and it really doesn’t matter which way you’ll be driving, you’ll easily find yourself at Zabriskie Point, or Badwater Basin or Furnace Creek or Shoshone.

Even if you don’t actually know where you’re going, it’ll always be easy to know where you’ve been and consequently where you might actually end up. People run and walk and cycle across Death Valley these days.

The triumphant, enlivening, almost gentrifying feeling of power. Being able to outwit nature. Which actually you won’t, because make no mistakes, nature here is witty, intelligent and extremely vicious. The temperatures are ludicrously high; the air is dusty and arid. See, I’ve said the same thing twice with two different synonyms because that’s how dry it is. To the point where you have to go through your entire personal thesaurus to describe it. There’s nothing here. Nothing. We soldier on propelled by salty peanuts and thick, insipid water. Our ‘Stang (what else in the desert?) bravely eats the miles, the fuel and its own tyres. The only thing that’s not running out is our energy because despite the flatness and vastness of the empty background we’re leaving behind and the horizon in front of us, it is impossible to fall asleep because A. it’s beautiful B. it’s scorching hot.

Death Valley is best defined by what it hasn’t got.

It hasn’t got trees or water, it’s got almost no life at all. There’s no precipitation. There’s no hail, no rain, no snow, no drizzle, no sleet. There’s almost no weather, actually. 364 days in 365, you won’t even see a cloud. Just miles and miles of blue, empty sky and miles and miles of bright, dry sand and terrain with occasional ribbons of tarmac. It’s a truly amazing place. And it gives you a clear idea of what nature can do when left to its own devices. And, let’s be brutal about it, it can be cruel.

Death Valley is nature at its crudest, and Badwater basin is the very embodiment of this crudeness. The lowest point of D.V., at 86 metre or 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is surreal. You park your rental car and climb out of the cabin and stand up beside it, thrashed by a violent heath and gusts of warm wind. The heat is so strong it almost feels like a thrust. It’s actually kind of hilarious. The first instinct, get in car, drive away. But then you resist. But then you soldier on. You drink your water, pointlessly, because by now it will be so warm you could use it for tea or coffee. So, you remember science. You remember when, back in school, you were occasionally paying attention to your teacher of physics and you remember that water has essentially a lower specific temperature than both air and your body, and so you empty the whole bottle on the top of your head. Which will relieve you for a few seconds, and then it’s desperately hot again.

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There’s a sign, you will see it encrusted in the rocks way above your eye level and it says “sea level”. Stretching before you, acres of salty, crumbly terrain that, aeons ago, would’ve been a lake. Badwater actually becomes, regularly albeit very rarely, a shallow pool of greenish water when it receives 4 or 5 times its average rainfall. It’s only happened a handful of times over the last 1,000 years but still, even if something only ever happens once every 100 years, it’s still something you can call “regular” in terms of frequency.

Death Valley is a spectacular place. It’s dry and devoid of life but look what it managed to create. Look what grew out of it.

Las Vegas.

But that’s a different story… next time.

534263_10151377521793496_1121171129_nwords & pics Alessandro Renesis

PSPB (Formerly known as - Universe Booking)

304908_10151377521063496_622311656_n

There’s a sign above fuel prices at the gas station that says “last gas before Death Valley”.

Car parked, back stretched, shades on. I enter the shop. In it, I find food and beverage, various phone chargers and batteries, newspapers, slot machines, decks of cards, an ATM, cigarettes, alcohol and the only thing a normal human would require to survive a drive across the desert: water. There’s a little hand-written note on the wall behind the counter. It says, “Your health matters, shop for nutrient items here”. I read it twice. This is the same shop that wants me to buy frozen dried turkey sticks, the same shop that has corn grains, spicy chips and sugary drinks on sale, and alcohol, when the temperature outside is about a trillion F°; this very same shop is using a scribbled piece of paper to demonstrate its worry about my personal health. Irony…

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