California boasts many National Parks to check off and Southern California puts many of the parks on our list within reach. Paul was especially excited to go to Death Valley because it is the lowest point in the western hemisphere. I was excited because Death Valley is the third largest Dark Sky Park in the world and I love stargazing.
I had also been excited to camp (when we say “camp” we mean, in tents, since our trailer is more like an apartment on wheels with no downstairs or upstairs neighbors). Before travel life I had been sleeping on a folding camp chair as a sleeping pad. I upgraded to a cushy Therm-a-Rest, only to find that I’d received a dud with a missing gasket in the nozzle. After months of waiting for the replacement to be sent to us via the company and via one of our trusted permanent addresses, I was ready to take it for a test sleep. When we set up camp, I found that my new Therm-a-Rest, fresh out of its (totally unnecessary) plastic wrap, had a hole in it! I was pretty peeved, but on some nights you learn to feel grateful for even the leakiest of sleeping pads.
We patched the sleeping pad with moleskin and decided to enjoy the day regardless. Death Valley is one of the less popular national parks so we easily found our way into secluded slot canyons with pastel hued rocks and dry falls for scampering up. We made a plan to get to a high point for sunset and sashayed our way about the tilting and drifting tectonic plates of North America. What a world!
The sunset was truly stunning, but with the drastic change of weather, the wind really started to whip. By the time the sun had dipped behind the mountains, the wind had snatched my hat! This hat, which is heavily featured in our hiking photos, is actually my mom’s hat (she has always had a more acute fashion sense than I have and is usually ahead of the trend). My disappointment was immediate, but not so severe that I was willing to let Paul chase it down the ravine (although he tried). I’d rather have Paul than any number of fashionable hats.
This was an extreme gusty wind. That hat was cranked on to my rather large head. We had a good laugh when we hiked downhill, really exerting ourselves to descend against the squall.
We found less to laugh about back at our campground. Our previously set up site was completely empty. That wind had carried off our tent and all of our overnight belongings! Our tent, which we had staked down and weighted with rocks and packs and sleeping bags, had blown clear out of the campground. And did I mention we had just watched the sun set? And that Death Valley is internationally recognized as a really really dark place? And there was a new moon? Okay, bye leaky sleeping pad and headlamp and zip-together sleeping bags and….What a world!
Ahh but adventure with a good (ceaselessly calm) adventure buddy can always be turned around and this one turned in a spectacular fashion. After lots of squinting and searching, we found that tent (complete with all gear) pinned to a mesquite tree and thrashing about with the breeze. The few patches it will need are a small burden compared to the miracle of finding it in the desert at all.
We were rewarded with a spectacular evening of stars, planets, and the milky way. Paul wondered what percentage of the night sky we could see. (Specifically---If we timed a satellite crossing our field of vision, what would we need to multiply that by in order to know how long it takes that satellite to orbit the earth?) And I wondered how long it takes the International Space Station to orbit the earth (and Paul told me that it takes 92 minutes. Obviously, he knew that. Everyone knows that. How did I not know that?) We both wondered what will happen as the sea level rises. Is the sea level now below sea level? Will they have to re-measure all elevation markers? Paul tried to convince me that there is a universal standard kilogram that is guarded behind bullet-proof glass, in a controlled environment, under lock and key to protect it from nefarious weight muddling criminals. That cannot be true. What a world!
But there’s more.
The next day, we broke camp early to explore one last trail before heading back home. We chose a series of canyons that an interpretive ranger recommended to us the day before. Paul likes to track our adventures on a mapping app and keeps a careful geo catalogue of our location.
A mile or so in to our trek, he decided to veer off the path and scale a ridge line to look into the canyons below. And don’t you know it, but that spouse of mine found my hat! What! A! World!