Elyse A. Bekins
We reach Badwater Basin around dusk, the remnants of sunlight lingering amidst the barren mountains.
We, 3,000 miles from home, walk across the salt flats, the vestiges of a saline lake, an ancient lake that once covered this valley and did not flow to the sea.
There are other visitors here too, at the lowest point in North America. Now they meander to their cars, the observant mothers eager to return home before dark.
We walk further on the salt. Dennis puts his arm around my shoulder, hugging me in. He kisses my cheek. The salt is textured, crackly, like snow beneath our feet.
We, 300 feet below sea level, with the air dense, dry. I pick up a salt crystal and lick my fingers.
Sixty miles away is a tiny fissure on the valley floor, an isolated pool of water named Devil’s Hole, the sole inhabitant of which is the Death Valley pupfish, an endangered species. The fissure, caused by outwardly-moving tectonic plates, is also the gateway to a massive underground aquifer, connecting to groundwater sources across California and Nevada. Yet the pupfish does not know this. The pupfish has existed in isolation for 20,000 years, never knowing of anyone or anything but themselves.
It is nighttime now on the flat, dry earth. The full moon, pregnant with light, reveals itself on the crest of the mountains. If we were coyotes this is surely the moment when we would howl to make our presence known, in the order of things, as the darkness bears down upon us.
Elyse A. Bekins is a writer and chef based out of New York City. She became enamored with the landscape of Death Valley while on a cross-country road trip in her ‘96 Oldsmobile.