First Place in the Mary Austin Prize for Writing contest
Naiya Luna Warren
Bishop High School
Death Valley – full of gyrating heat waves, dusty landscapes that last an eternity contrasted with intermittent blips of apricot mallow and occasional swaths of desert gold, and at night the whole galaxy spills out into the sky. To be in a place where the quiet is so saturating that you can hear your own blood pulsing and the slightest breeze through the mesquite trees sounds like a symphony is a truly magical experience. I often find that I yearn for this desolate solitude; that it nurtures me in a way that is comparable to nothing else.
On January 3rd my stepdad, mom and I set out for Butte Valley; one of the more remote areas of Death Valley nestled in the far southeast corner. Following the narrow and rugged Warm Spring Canyon Road we passed stark talc mines, craggy canyons, and intensely compressed rock terrain marked sporadically by the tell-tale evidence that burros had been there. Even with my stepdad’s four-wheel drive, the rough road could only safely be traversed at times by a deliberate creeping rock crawl that caused the vehicle to buck, and it felt as though this was the longest drive I had ever experienced. Eventually, the road gave way to a vast brush-covered valley and rising magnificently was Striped Butte; our destination, the Geologist’s Cabin, was close.
Upon reaching the cabin, we raised the flag to signal to anyone who may be near that the camp spot was occupied. After helping unpack our gear, I trekked up a nearby hill and perched atop a boulder, in awe of the expansiveness of the surrounding desert. It’s often perceived as being plain brown, but it is deep purple and tan and sunny yellow and vibrant orange and chestnut with striations of silver. In the distance I noticed burros meandering along well-worn trails and overhead crows flew high. As the sun cast its evening rays of liquid gold, highlighting the collection of Striped Butte’s hues, we huddled up next to the fireplace and roasted marshmallows.
At this point, the main act of Butte Valley’s production was introduced: the night sky. The temperature had dropped significantly, so after covering in many layers I went outside and gazing up I fell deep into the glittering heavens. The Milky Way spilled its celestial contents across the hemisphere, and I had a revelation of just how strongly the stars affect me. I am captivated, and I am acutely aware in this moment that there is a distinct parallel between the broadness and infinite possibility of space and the remote expanse of Death Valley.
Jostling me from my trance I was alerted by the sound of a very heavy creature walking uncomfortably close by. My flashlight beam revealed a burro staring at me, dead in the eye. We remained in this position for only a second, but at that moment I wondered what that burro had seen. I wondered if it looked at the stars with the same mysterious elation that I felt; if it wandered aimlessly around Striped Butte without a care in the world, if it felt fear. As if to answer my question, the burro glanced upward towards the firmament, and trod away. I walked back into the cabin, pondering the events that had taken place, and was met with a wall of heat from the fireplace. I crashed nearly as soon as I nestled into my sleeping bag, a testament to the minuscule, yet profound experience that had just occurred.
At dawn, we trekked along the ridge of Striped Butte. Upon reaching the Butte’s summit, I located the hiker-log and memorialized my journey by signing the book. I considered the many pages of names and felt strongly that each person had experienced their own personal awakening. I gazed at the entirety of the valley with a wonderment reserved for gazing at the stars. Death Valley has always held a special place in my heart, and this trip to the Butte Valley, while short, will forever stay emblazoned in my memory.