We’ve Been Through The Desert

“How could rocks and sand and silence make us afraid and yet be so wonderful?” Edna Brush Perkins

Serene is a word you could use to describe Death Valley. She is isolated and desolate by anyone’s standards, a primeval destination, and maybe the perfect place to celebrate thirty-nine years of marriage. 

This clearly reveals our desire to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of suburban life, to drive away from the struggle, the banality, and endless to-do lists. If our real craving was to find a wild yet quiet location, one that offered a rustic sense of freedom and an air of mystique, then we nailed it.

Death Valley is shrouded in mystery and magical allure. It’s the hottest place on Earth, with a recorded temperature of 134 degrees on July 10, 1913. It is also the driest U.S. national park, with Badwater Basin a whopping 282 feet below sea level. 

By any scale, Death Valley is a land of extremes, where the powerful heat is a force of nature, the topography daringly unique, and as if guardians, majestic mountains protectively surround the valley. 

I’m not sorry, and I don’t mean to get all wiggy on you, but Death Valley reminds me of marriage. Don’t you think? It mimics extreme differences, the powerful heat that draws us together, and those bands of gold that guard the sacredness of our vows. As Jim Anderson notes, partnerships are not just about riding in tandem all the time. It’s about helping each other get in the right frame of mind. 

Which happens to be my superpower. Okay, I’ll refrain from belaboring the point any further. You’re welcome.

I do have to praise the dry, warm air, which immediately cleared up my cough, and as the ever-present dust enters my bloodstream, I never want to say goodbye.

We left Campbell a little after six in the morning, loaded the truck with our horse with no name, luggage for a week, and enough snacks to sustain our layer of winter fat. Almost nine hours later, and after several heady discussions (something to do with my superpower), we entered the park.

Maybe I was just so happy to get out of the car, but my gratitude meter was on overload when I scanned the expansive valley floor against the steep surrounding mountain range. It was as if I were gazing at the most exquisite painting.

Oh, you might be wondering about our horse with no name corralled in the back of the truck. Larry signed us up for a fifty-mile tandem bike ride, in the desert heat, on the day of our anniversary. 

Who said Italians aren’t romantic? 

There is one main resort in the park, the Oasis Inn, so essentially, you’re a captive. They have two locations with guest lodging about a stone’s throw apart from each other. The main resort is upscale, pricey, and elegant. A mile down the road, the accommodations are more rustic, with fewer services and amenities. While checking into the Oasis, we are told there is a stargazing deck located just past our room. 


We stash the horse with no name with the staff, the bellboy brings up the luggage, and we prepare for dinner down in the lounge. 

Joe is the bartender, and he’s the perfect amount of friendly, yet not a busybody, and offers generous pours. We order wine, beer, crab cake tacos, and a Caprese salad and eat at the bar. With our appetites satisfied, we thank Joe for looking the other way as we head over to the star deck with our glass of wine. They have a no-glass policy outside of the bar. I actually saw a bellboy chase a couple down the hall who were hoping to finish their martinis elsewhere. The bellboy was faster. 

Whenever the night draws back the curtain and pins it with a star (Betty Smith, I’m reading When A Tree Grows in Brooklynn), I will remember that slender glass of wine in my hand, Larry’s arm cradling my neck, as we sat stunned by the plethora of stars laid out before us. With so few lights polluting the night skies, stars are visible by the thousands. Every night a shooting star delights us with a dance or two across the sky. 

I admit I started to design a star deck in my mind for the rooftop of the lake house, where it is dark enough to view the stars with a crazy amount of clarity. I mentioned the idea to Larry. He was less than enthusiastic. I believe I raised the point earlier about our extreme differences. Proof.

The next morning we made a list of all the places we wanted to see, and of course, our first destination was Dante’s Peak. It’s an expansive overlook at the crest of the Black Mountains. You can see Death Valley’s high point at Telescope Peak and its low point at Badwater Basin. The difference in elevation makes your ears pop, the dry desert air leaves you with a constant thirst, and I had this crazy desire to fly. 

In the brochure, it said the mountains and valleys have been created by the stretching out and pulling apart of plate tectonics. As the earth’s crust stretches, it cracks and breaks up into blocks, which slide against one another like felled dominos, making steep peaks and slanted valleys. Sediment fills in the low places, softening and leveling the valleys. The result is a Basin and Range landscape of highs and lows, where Death Valley is the most dramatic example.

We spent the day hiking through narrow canyons, literally a foot-wide passage between two massive boulders, and marveling at the way everything shifts and flows. There are powerful forces at work in this valley that might be invisible to the naked eye but shockingly evident in the resulting landscape. 

I notice it is the same with people.

There is a place called the artist’s palette where water and wind have shaved layers off the mountain exposing colorful patterns of red, orange, yellow, blue, pink, and green. These colors are from volcanic deposits rich in compounds such as iron oxides and chlorite, which creates a rainbow effect. The colors are the most dazzling at sunset. It’s enough to make you cry. Well, not Larry, just me.

A few miles down the road, we stop at the salt flats and walk about two miles out on soft white powder until we’re standing in the middle of what appears to be a dried-up lake. It’s surreal.

We ended up at the Ranch at Furnace Creek, which has an outside fireplace that sort of begs one to sit and enjoy a cocktail. In fact, we stayed for dinner and another glass of wine. The air is dry, the weather crisp, and the Milky Way is so bright it seems as if you could reach out and touch it.

On our second day in the park, we decided to visit a real ghost town, as in deserted, not haunted. It was a thriving settlement at the turn of the 20th century, but Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, along with the financial panic of 1907, made it impossible to raise development capital. By the end of 1910, the mine permanently closed, and many out-of-work miners moved elsewhere until there was no one left in town.

It was an eerie experience to browse through the ruins of a once thriving settlement, not a soul in sight, with the wind howling down the empty streets. There are foundations in various states of disrepair, old crumbling storefronts, and abandoned mine shafts scar the surrounding mountains. We spent several hours reading the history of the settlers, climbing up to an open mine but not daring to go in, and imagining what it was like during the height of its popularity. 

I actually stood on the wrap-around porch of the town saloon (and other entertainments) that sits at the top of the community overlooking the valley below. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to live here, to watch the sunset from this position, with the constant presence of wind and dust. I felt a melancholy, or hopelessness, reach across time and envelope me. This must have been how the people felt who occupied this space. 

Driving away in silence, both of us lost in our own thoughts, which we had to scramble out of as we pulled into the parking lot for the Mosaic hike. You start out on a regular trail, but the canyon abruptly narrows as the smooth marble walls of Noonday Dolomite take shape around you. The passing of grit-laden flash floods have scoured the narrow canyon and polished the smooth marble walls to a beautiful finish. Again, we passed very few people as walked deeper and deeper into the canyon, and when you stopped and listened, it was the most intense silence imaginable. 

At sunset, we have to check in for our tandem ride tomorrow at the Ranch. We’re given number plates that must be attached to the bike for you to ride in the event. And of course, there are matching shirts and some fun swag to enjoy. 

I woke up before the alarm went off. I may have been excited about the ride or slightly anxious about the wind that howled last night as if a pack of wolves lamenting their fate. 

So I sat up in bed and listened with immense gratitude to the sound of a windless morning. I snuggled back under the covers, content that we wouldn’t be fighting both steep passes and gale-force winds. 

But there was to be no snoozing for me. Larry has pre-event anxiety. After struggling into our padded bike pants, wool shirts, vests, and bike shoes, we realize it’s our anniversary. We take a minute to reminisce about how young we were in 1983, all the dreams we had for a future yet to be created, and how we would never have imagined celebrating thirty-nine years of marriage in a tandem bike event. 


Reunited with our gigantic horse with no name who has been corralled in a storage locker for the last two days, we warmed up our legs on the mile ride to the start line. Now it may have been my fault or the two of us in tandem, but we missed the memo that said, due to the small number of participants, they established a hard start at 7:00 am. We interpreted that to mean we could wander in at our leisure. So we were the last riders to hit the road by about twenty minutes. 

This makes Larry absolutely crazy, and of course, I could care less. Extremes!

“It’s not a race,” I keep repeating, which only exasperates the situation. 

“I don’t care if it’s not a race. The point being, you should never be last.”

“Jesus’ words, ‘the last shall be first.’ takes on a whole new meaning,” I laugh.

He does not see the humor and counters by saying, “that only matters if you’re trying to get to heaven. I’m trying to cross a finish line.”

“In Death Valley.”


Well, I’m beyond thrilled to report we did not come in last, as we passed up several riders on some steep passes. We’re not sure if the walk across Spain aided our speed or we’re just getting better at this, but we completed the fifty-mile “race” with our fastest time (Larry not wanting to be last much), and at the finish line, we felt damn good. 

Weeks ago, Larry signed us up for a couple’s foot massage at the conclusion of the ride back at the Oasis. I have no idea how this is going to be accomplished, but my feet are all in. The spa is located off the pool deck, so Larry and I went down in our swimsuits to lounge by the pool and await our massage. 

Neither of us knows what the hell to expect. We’re greeted by two lovely ladies and escorted into a heated room with meditation music playing softly in the background. After being seated in large comfy upholstered chairs, we are instructed to place both our feet in the bowls of warm water placed at our feet, with rose petals, lemon slices, herbs, and oils floating around. Larry looks slightly alarmed but sets his massive feet in the bowl. His water splashes onto the floor. While we soak our feet in the luxurious water, we are served champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. I know. It’s like right out of a raunchy movie.

Then they tell us to relax, enjoy the fruit and champagne, and they’ll give us twenty minutes of privacy while our feet soak? They exit quietly. We giggle as if grammar school kids, strawberry juice dripping down our chins, chased by a slug of champagne. 

Larry tips his glass to mine, “Happy Anniversary.”

“Happy Anniversary, I can’t imagine ever topping this one.”

“Oh, I’ll think of something.”

“Could we leave the horse home next year?”

We hear a knock at the door just as we’re finishing our treats. They reposition us onto two beds situated side by side. Mercy. Then we’re covered with a warm blanket, the lights are dimmed (I’m not kidding), and the ladies proceed to massage our feet and caves simultaneously. 

After twenty minutes, both of us are snoring. Lovely. 

Our reservation for dinner at the only restaurant at the Inn is at 7:30, so we clean up, and head to the lounge to enjoy an old fashion in front of their beautiful pass-through fireplace. For dinner, we enjoy a caesar salad, steak, and potatoes. It was adequate, but we ended the night with a little stargazing before bed, and that was exquisite. 

Up early, we load the car with our luggage and our gigantic horse with no name, grab some coffees, and so begins our nine-hour journey home. As we’re driving through the valley, I’m wondering if I’ll ever pass this way again. I’m feeling grateful to have visited this magnificent park and to have walked the salt flats and the trails through the mountains. 

Our first stop is Father Crawley’s Vista Point. This was a favorite place for travelers to view the valley long before the creation of Death Valley National Park. One of those travelers was Father John J. Crowley, a catholic priest responsible for ministering to the people of Inyo County Parish in the 1930s. The Desert Padre, as he was known, would often stop here to admire the views on his way to or from visiting parishioners in Death Valley and his home in Lone Pine, CA.

It’s a worthy stop.

We’ve heard about internment camps in history classes, places very similar to concentration camps during the second world war, where the United States relocated Japanese citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We decided to stop at the Manzanar Camp, located between Lone Pine and Independence. 

While Larry and I are walking between the staged barracks, and administrative buildings, reading the memorial plates, we bump into a young man. We greet each other and talk about where we are from, and he asks if this is our first visit to the camp. Well, come to find out, his grandfather was interned here, and he visits the camp every five years. His grandfather actually volunteered to help build the barracks when it became apparent this is what the government has decided to do. We talked about his grandfather for a few more minutes but went our separate ways.

We learned that the weather at Manzanar caused suffering for the inmates, few of whom were accustomed to the extreme climate. Summers on the desert floor of the Owens Valley are generally hot, with temperatures often exceeding 100 °F (38 °C). Winters bring occasional snowfall and daytime temperatures that often drop into the 40 °F (4 °C) range. The temporary buildings were inadequate to shield people from the weather.

The ever-present dust was a continual problem due to the frequent high winds, so much so that people usually woke up in the morning covered from head to toe with a fine layer of dust, and they constantly had to sweep dirt out of the barracks.

A former Manzanar inmate Ralph Lazo said, “In the winter, the sparsely rationed oil didn’t adequately heat the tar paper-covered pine barracks with knotholes in the floor. The wind would blow so hard, it would toss rocks around.”

This was a powerful and emotional experience, an aspect of our history that is often glossed over or barely mentioned. After meeting the young man, we realized trauma like this is passed on from one generation to the next, the wound still exists, but as Brie Larson says, “there is a way to bring awareness in tandem with forgiveness and love.”

I would say the same dynamic is present in our relationships, especially when we ignore our own trauma and woundedness.

Larry and I stayed in the camp for the better part of an hour, visiting all the sites, the museum, and the burial grounds. We ran into the young man several times and made a point to wave goodbye when we left. 

Nothing can destroy a place or partnership of such extremes. Not that I’m trying to classify marriage as an internment camp or Death Valley, but it has its moments of antipode. From bliss to blisters has been my experience.

“Goodbye,” I whispered as we climbed over the last jagged ridge before home.

And I close the window on one of the most memorable, rare, and sacred experiences ever. 

I’m Living in the Gap, just come from the desert, love to swap a few comments with you.

My book is NOW available at Black Rose for preorder! If you are compelled to purchase a book or two prior to the publication date of February 23, 2023,  Grow Damn It!: The Feeding and Nurturing of Life, you get to use the promo code: PREORDER2022 to receive a 15% discount. Your pre-ordered copy will process and ship on or prior to the release date. So you get it first! Whoot! Hoot! This might be a proper occasion for champagne!


Leave a Comment

  1. I would love to see Death Valley, but not on a bike 😉 lovely photos to accompany your wonderful missive. Isn’t it great how being away from the metropolis of life and into the gardens of Mother Earth can embiggen your soul. Well done on not being last in the horse race!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was an amazing place to visit. I wouldn’t want to live there year round! The quiet was actually very appealing, as was the sparse amount of visitors in the park, and there are no words for the clarity of the stars. It was a place that makes you aware of the immense forces of nature and how this energy forms and shapes the landscape. How could it not form and shape us too? The images don’t really do the park justice, it’s like seeing a puzzle in pieces. Hugs to you my friend, C

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am envious of your acheivement, as I would love to see Death Valley. But not on a bicycle! Well done to you both, you have inspired me to try the same, in an air-conditioned car! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here, I’ve lived in California most of my life and never once have I ventured into the Death Valley National Park. It really was extraordinary. I’ve heard stories and seen images of the park, but hiking the trails, and bicycling across the valley floor (or in an air conditioned car) gives you a whole new appreciation for its unique features. I was amazed at how much water we had to drink to stay hydrated. The park can be a dangerous place if you’re not prepared. People die on the trails every year due to dehydration. I’m hoping next year we celebrate the anniversary without our horse with no name! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dorothy! If you ever get a chance to see the park, it’s worth it. I was stunned by the beauty, serenity, and diversity of the landscape. It gets so hot there because there are never any clouds. The skies are a brilliant blue for as far as you can see. Without any city lights, smog, or weather the stars are luminous at night. I like the way you think, a stargazing deck, I might borrow that! Hugs, C


  3. Dear Cheryl,
    What a beautiful description of your trip! This really makes me want to go and see it. Another thing to add to the bucket list. Thanks for sharing your journeys❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gail! Thank you, it needs to be added to your bucket list. I’m surprised that we have never been to Death Valley as kids or during our marriage. I had the same response to Death Valley as I did when I first say the Niagara Falls. It’s extraordinary and you are simply grateful to have had the opportunity to see it with your own eyes, let alone on the back of a tandem bike! Might be something to add on to your next trip west? After the lake of course! Miss you guys! Hugs, Cheryl


  4. Wow, Cheryl – a beautiful post that also totally cracked me up. Congratulations on 39 years – and surviving it with your humor and perspective intact. I’ve driven through Death Valley but your post made me feel remiss that I didn’t stop and explore.

    Star gazing, hiking, tandem biking, foot massages – now that’s a great way to celebrate a wonderful marriage or just about anything. Love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Wynne. I would highly recommend, if you ever get the chance, that you spend some time exploring Death Valley. The stars are extraordinary but the raw, rugged, beauty of the landscape is fascinating. I kept thinking it would be so cool to see it from a helicopter. Thanks for joining our celebration! Hugs, C


  5. Wonderful Cheryl. It was like I was there spectatimg, but also feeling. The tense moments in difference, acknowledging Larry’s feeling about the start 😉😂 and the joy of celebration, recounting chocolate strawberries and champagne times with Danielle. All against the backdrop of a place I was actually at, at the ripe old age of 6. Even if my experience was most definitely nothing like yours, the familiarity was connected and lovely. Happy anniversary to the both of you and pass on my best whitest m wishes and congratulations to Larry too… especially on a race well run!! (on the horse with no name of course 🤣)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Daniel for the kind anniversary wishes which I will pass on to Larry and for making the effort to not only read the story but feeling the underlying emotions. You have a knack for reading between the lines and finding the core message! And you get my humor which means you’re either easily amused or extraordinarily brilliant. I’ll go with the later. Thanks for helping me find the perfect song on our Gecko call! Looking forward to our next one! Hugs, C


  6. Great commentary on the trip and the contrasts between marriage and Death Valley were unique. I was relieved to learn that you, Larry, and your “horse with no name” were not last. . . but then, of course, you couldn’t be first then either. Perfect song matching as well, which has become an expectation to some degree. A very enjoyable read. Though, considering the situation, I did expect more dry humor. 😉

    Hoping your Thanksgiving was an especially good one this year. You have much to celebrate at the 39-year mark of sustained coexistence. Happy anniversary!

    Very Best Regards to both of you neighbors, from Terrie and me!

    C.T. & T.T. (she corrected my grammar. . . Shocking, huh?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chris and Terrie! Happy Thanksgiving! You crack me up Chris, “I did expect more dry humor.” I’m still laughing. “Relieved to learn we were last, but then, of course, we couldn’t be first.” You might be the only one who picked that up! Thanks for joining us in our celebration of “sustained coexistence,” and I’m ever so pleased that you did not say joyful coexistence because sustained is so much more accurate! Miss you two! Hugs, C


  7. Happy 39th Anniversary, Cheryl (and Larry)! Your marriage, metaphors, and sense of adventure inspire me more than you know. Maybe one day I’ll see Manzanar and Death Valley, probably not on bike. Rereading When A Tree Grows in Brooklyn sounds more likely. I loved that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Crystal! What a kind thing to say. I think you and I have so much in common (love of writing, educators, long relationships, a love of travel and adventure) and that might be why your blog resonates with me and mine with you, but regardless, I’m so glad to have found you. And I’m am loving A Tree Grows In Brooklyn! What a great writer! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kathy, thank you for the anniversary wishes. You know, we used to do normal vacations with the kids, drives to Yosemite, visit the relatives, camping in the national forests, but all of a sudden (coincided with our retirements) we’re do these “extreme vacations” and let me just say I’m ready to sip a mai tai on the beach and read a book. I’m afraid Larry’s caught the adventure bug and he’s ready for more! Thanks for celebrating with us! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a fine read! I love how your anniversary includes an experience, the menu you will forget but not your bike ride. I liked this post so much I googled the hotel, in fact you should send the link to the hotel and see if you get a discount for next year. You are a fun writer and you include little details that make me smile. The title had me humming the song before I even read it – I just wish the song was before my time – we will be celebrating 43 years in march. Where does the time go?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David, thank you so much, and I agree the ride made the anniversary so much more memorable. It’s a magical place and if you ever get the chance you should visit Death Valley National Park! And by the way, you do not look old enough to be celebrating 43 years of marriage! That’s fantastic and ever so rare. I should add, that song has been bouncing around in my head all week. It sort of captures you. Thanks for joining the adventure. Hugs, C


      1. Honestly Cheryl I have been thinking about Death Valley ever since I read your post, I am considering a trip in March. I have checked out the park on Youtube. March 8 will be 43 years – I was only 6 years old at the time of course. ♥

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I have never been to Death Valley, nor had I wanted to visit until I read your post. I think it was living in the desert of Palm Springs that I felt it was something I didn’t need to see. Have you read “Farewell to Manzanar?” One of my kids read it in school. I read it too and it is a dreadful bit of our history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Death Valley National Park is an extraordinary place and I highly recommend you visiting if you get the opportunity. You know a lot about the desert from your time in Palm Springs but Death Valley has its own magic. I saw the book “Farewell to Manzanar” in the gift shop. I’ll have to get a copy. Understanding the suffering of others is the first step to healing. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Bella, Bella, Bella, I let him think he’s romantic, self-fulling prophesy sort of thing, but you should have no doubt I dangled the idea and let him believe it was his own. I’m thinking of dangling a few trinkets I have my eye on…you never know! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a trip, Cheryl. My brother loves Death Valley and he’s always encouraging us to go. I’ve been hedging, but your pictures are beautiful and your descriptions are almost spiritual. Thanks for sharing your trip, and Happy Anniversary. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. On a horse with no name… (this song will be stuck in my head for like a month now 😂)
    “Larry signed us up for a fifty-mile tandem bike ride, in the desert heat, on the day of our anniversary. Who said Italians aren’t romantic?” I’m sure his heart was in the right place lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Scott! This was my first time in Death Valley and I was surprised by the beauty, and the amazing landscape, but the star gazing was the topping on the cake! I think the Spring or the Fall are the best times to visit. I can’t imagine doing a ride during the summer! Thanks so much for joining the conversation! Hugs, C


  12. You guys are amazing, and such stamina! Kudos to you both living life large. Foot massage jealousy here! And congrats on your book on preorder! I loved it! ❤ x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s