Death Valley Camp at 6000ft photo: F. Rowland
We climbed the canyon, up and out of the suffocating heat of the valley. The sun was low and colored like amber. The canyon's wash rose steadily and we were forced to scrabble along the slick white boulders lining the trail. The stream winnowed and disappeared underground as the four of us reached 4000 feet. The rocks behind us grew into wide walls, glowing orange and pink in the dusk. We stopped short at the transect boundary. Spotted Towhees sang their shimmering notes from the overgrown streambed, signaling out arrival into the high oak forests.
A campsite, unbelievable in its serendipity, lay vacant to our side. One fire ring and a few clear areas for sleeping. We threw off our packs in celebration and went searching for firewood. We found an old shack, with names of other hikers carved and marked in the door. One signature startled me, my old friend Feeney from Pasadena had been here (birding no doubt). It was four years since I'd seen him, smoking Cuban cigars on the back porch of our Yuma home. We left our mark next to his, "IBO Bird Maniacs, Death Valley, 2010."
We returned with arms full of dry juniper logs. A few bats whirled in the darkening blue above. Crickets set about their jovial chorus. Pajaro lit the fire, laying long logs across the stone ring. The unburned edges lay in wait just outside the perimeter. It reminded me of Daudi's fires in Tanzania, when we'd slep out on the Serengeti plains.
Many nights we'd slept this way, under the stars. There were also nights Daudi would come and tell us that we'd be needing to sleep in our tents. We never questioned him, instead sneaking away to our canvas A-frames, wondering at the terrifying creatures that must have lurked just beyond the firelight.
Mickey walks the Panamint Valley
Signing the door photo: L. Smith