My recollection of Death Valley was so shallow. I remember driving through a barren landscape; I recall an overview that was windy and cold; We camped on a roadside pullout and huddled together inside our tent on a frigid December morning as we stuck a reluctant arm out to make coffee. At that time—a lifetime away—we were on a road trip to somewhere else, and DV was just a place we had to cross to get there. Wandering through the rainbow hills was not on our radar, nor was any desire to seek out sand dunes or get lost in the canyons conversing with beautiful strangers. Our missed opportunity stings because a dozen years ago, we could have had the dunes, the hills, and the canyons all to ourselves. Today, as with most National Parks I am discovering, it is rare to get moments to yourself where you can be one with the landscape and hide away from the hustle of the real world. There are a million others out there with you, bringing their hustles and their bustles with them in flurried hoards.
My first night was spent at Stovepipe Wells campground, fairly centered in the middle of the park, just east of Mesquite Dunes. I got the last tent site squeezed in between a dozen others to my left, right, and behind. I was happy to have it and set out my wood and ice chest before heading out to climb the dunes. My eyes fixated on the tallest peak of sand in the distance and I set my goal of reaching the top. I passed a tour bus load of people playing on the nearby mounds, many families with children skipping along, and some sand boarders headed to the opposite peak. Footprints were like pockmarks filling every inch as they made trails up and down and across. I kept walking until they disappeared and the only trace of humans were the muffled voices behind me. I would have gone farther if I could, but I had reached my peak and it was the farthest and tallest, so I stood there and yelled something to the Universe with my arms outstretched, beaming my wide smile into the deep blue sky—alone.
After pouring the sand out of my boots, I crossed the road to get a canyon hike in before nightfall arrived. It wasn't remote, but my legs needed a good walk after being in the car for the good part of ten hours that day. I was on a mission: I wanted a blood pumping walk to reach the end of the trail in record time. So, therefore, nature played with me and I was given exactly the opposite. A father and son were jaunting slowly in front of me, so I decided to politely pass them—as one does. We all caught eyes and smiled... and then he started to chat. Normally, I would try to duck and divert because I had a mission to accomplish! But with this pair, I felt my feet happily slow pace to match theirs, and so we continued up the canyon as three—just taking our sweet ol' time—happily sharing our lives and stories with one another in complete joyful contentment. In those precious moments, I was shown that being out in nature isn't always about finding solitude, it's about giving yourself the chance to experience life in the moment through the adoring (and sometimes laughing) eyes of Mother Nature.