Mindful Places: Death Valley National Park

If I had to describe my approach to spirituality I might be tempted to say that I’m as spiritual as a rock – that is to say: not at all! It’s fitting then that my most spiritual journey found me surrounded by rocks, rocks, and nothing but more rocks.

Death Valley National Park in eastern California has an eerie kind of stillness to it. At first approach, it looks like nothing but rock and stone and endless desolation. But on closer examination, there are hundreds of different colors shaded in the cliffs, from vermillion and turquoise to mustard yellow and silver.

The bare earth is actually home to tiny delicate grasses and wildflowers and insects. The shadows bounce off the ripples in the rocks in a million different directions and the slightest sound is instantly absorbed. And the heat – oh my goodness, the heat!

Death Valley in July is not for the faint of heart. It’s like stepping into a dry sauna and the heat comes as much from the rocks on the ground as the sun in the sky. It’s at once both suffocating and overwhelming but also slightly comforting, like being permanently wrapped in an invisible duvet. Sure, you can go in January when things are a pleasant 20 degrees, but I say wait until the summer and get the full experience!

I’m not sure if I would describe Death Valley as relaxing, exactly, but there is something freeing in surrendering yourself to the elements and knowing that you have absolutely no control. The heat decides if you will walk 5 meters or 50. The stinging wind will dictate if you spend extra time outside taking photos. The salt cedar trees provide constant aromatherapy whether you want it or not.

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The silence is unnerving. While many lessons of spirituality teach us that we are never alone, Death Valley can teach you just how very alone you are. While driving down an isolated road, we pulled over to look at the ruins of an old mine. I’ve never experienced such silence before. There wasn’t a single sound – not a car in the far off distance, not the crackle of electricity from an adjacent pole, not a bird singing or an insect chirping. It’s incredibly peaceful and meditative but also frightening. You are very much alone in the world here and that can be unsettling.

A visit to Death Valley National Park requires careful planning. This is one area where you cannot be too careful and even short journeys must be well thought out. To be caught without sufficient water, food, fuel, and proper attire can be deadly and all information from the ranger station should be adhered to and respected. But if you don’t mind some advanced research – and lugging several liters of water everywhere you go –Death Valley will leave you refreshed and reflective. You will be in awe of the supremacy of nature, the extremes of our earth, and the power of being surrounded by silence.

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This is a post of Vanessa Chiasson from TurnipseedTravel – an ocean loving Maritimer now settled as a freelance writer in Ottawa. Her diverse travels include Paris, where she ran a marathon, the coffee farms of Hawaii, and the national parks of Malawi. TurnipseedTravel.com is passionate about great value -getting the absolute most for your hard earned dollars and days off. Our value travel philosophy tells you where to save, when to splurge, and how to make every moment count. (Photos by Vanessa Chiasson)

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