"A memorable sign on Public Lands" - This post was created for the #naturewritingchallenge in one hour.
I was thinking back to all the signs on public lands - there have been a lot and I'm kind of obsessed with documenting my travels with them. I started to look through my archives, trying to find that most memorable sign. Then, I thought, maybe it's not a photo of a sign but maybe one of those many epiphanies I've had in my life. I've had many moments on Public Lands that have brought great clarity to my brain, but not really any major signs in life. So, I'm going to stick to the physical and share one of my most memorable and favorite signs. The year was 2008, my two good buddies and I had just visited the Redwoods and were moving on through California to Death Valley National Park. I had researched the Redwoods, as mentioned in the post from last week, but I really knew NOTHING about Death Valley prior to visiting. We arrived midday, sun shining, wind blasting, and the desert blooming. We were in shock, coming from moss covered redwoods to giant sequoias to the desert - the hottest, lowest place in the USA.
I can remember the start of our drive through the park - we were truly obsessed with the signs because we were in love with the road trip. Signs were the way we navigated - old school, before smartphones and navigation systems in the dash. We were in our rented car, driving through the desert and we see the sign to turn right in a mile for Death Valley. Eventually, we get to to the Death Valley welcome sign and enter the park, feeling accomplished. We were using Microsoft Streets and Trips, but signs were our guiding visual element. If I went out there right now and reenacted this scenario, with my Google Maps built in to my device, I'm not sure I'd have been as observant of the signs and markers. As I write this I'm having an "ah-ah" moment about how I've become so much less observant in current times and maybe I need to slow it down when I'm out and about. I still notice signs, but I don't obsess over them the way we did before Google Maps and that fresh road trip spirit of the late 2000s.
As we meandered through the park, we stopped at various tourist stops to take it in and take pictures. We stopped to take a photo of the sign proclaiming we were at sea level and moved on to see the how borax was mined and transformed and then on to see the desert in bloom. We made our way to the Devil’s Golf Course, to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, and then to Badwater Basin. When I think of my first trip to Death Valley, I think of Badwater Basin and posing with the sign that says I was 282 feet below sea level. Of all the places we saw, other than maybe the desert in bloom which only seems significant now that I know people flock to see it, Badwater stands out. The white salt flats, the salty pools of water, the view through the valley, and the sign that said I was there. Death Valley and Redwoods were the first two big parks I experienced in my life - and they were a day a part. Sure the trees are unforgettable, in fact I daydream about them often, but being in the hottest and lowest place in the USA is also quite memorable and I have a photo with a sign to prove it.
Two years after this visit, I was able to get back. This time, I knew a little about what to expect when visiting Death Valley. We entered from the east this time, made our way to places I didn't even know existed the first time, I didn't see any bloom in the desert, and I sure did go back to Badwater and stand next to that sign again. Going back, I was genuinely excited to see this place again and to take a photo in front of the sign. Sure, I got to see the valley from Dante's View, hike through one of the side canyons, and see the painted desert hills of the Artist's Drive, but that sign at Badwater was a constant and will be any time I visit in the future. Signs come and go, they change, and they can be metaphorical. Maybe this one sign is just a physical sign, but it's representative of my first desert adventure, inspired me to check out more desert destinations, and beckons me to return to see it and the ever changing Badwater Basin.