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Park 11

Death Valley, the drama is in the name. Death Valley warns you of the consequences of unpreparedness, of inattention, of plain old bad luck. Don’t think about entering without planning, without supplies, without knowing conditions.

Yet, modern humans, spoiled by air conditioning and vehicles faster than mules enter with confidence unwarranted. The bus load of senior citizens booed when the tour guide announced that if the temperature in Death Valley was over 115, we would not go there. The driver gave us stern warning that she would need to turn the air conditioning off for the bus to have enough power to climb the mountain pass. Upon descending into the valley, it would come on again only to be off ascending the high mountain passes on the way out. We still wanted to go.

Sweat was a small price to pay for the magnificent and other worldly landscape. None of us had expected the spectacular wrongness of our mental image. Death Valley conjured for our minds, flat, brown and dead. It was instead 9,000-foot mountains plunging to 231 feet below sea level. The mountain passes and high dunes folded upon themselves in intricate ways. Low plants made a hard scrabble life from whispers of moisture; some animals never drank but survived from the moisture of their feed.

Surprises like Death Valley are a reason to take a chance and the road less traveled. The lowest, hottest, driest place on earth can also be the most beautiful.

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