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Death Valley

Here are most of us, at about 200 foot below sea level at the edge of an enormous mosaic of salt called Badwater. Brendan is next to Alex. Marie-Hélène took the picture. Russ is holding up a lump of salt: I’m sure that he had a good reason!

For Thanksgiving in 2004, the Hanlons invited us, or at least those of us old enough to be interested and young enough to be interested in spending a long weekend with the parents, to accompany them to Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, California.

Click to see the sign, proof that we were at a couple of hundred feet below sea level. It was an odd sensation looking up at that sign from the valley floor.

We were not surprised that none of our adolescents in the US (Nick was in France) elected in their turn to accompany us. A little hurt, maybe, even perhaps discretely relieved (they were all hard at work at the time), but not surprised. Everyone says that it is perfectly normal that they begin to make their own ways, and it is obvious that as a family we cannot remain all together indefinitely, but . . . why not?!

The odd volcanic crater that we visited on another afternoon. The boys climbed down (all the way) and back up (all the way, but a little slower!).

This trip was another of the perks of my period of temporary relief from professional duties: there were a lot of silver linings in that particular cloud!

We had never managed to reach Death Valley before, because it was such a long road trip for the family. On this occasion, the Hanlons’ invitation gave us that extra incentive, and the example of friends with children taking the same long road trip.

In the photo at the top of the page, we were exploring Badwater, finding our way across the ground peeking through this slowly disappearing lake by treading on the salt crusts which separated the pools of shallow water. As you can imagine, this was fun for both parents and children! Here is another photo from the same portion of the trip, this time including Marie-Hélène.

The moonrise caught by Marie-Hélène out of the car window on the way back to Furnace Creek Ranch from the dunes where we had spent the afternoon.

Russ was very surprised to see the water there at all. Notwithstanding its name, he had never seen water in Badwater during any of his earlier visits to Death Valley. Apparently it had rained hard in August, the first storm in 20-odd years, and all the water that had drained into Badwater, forming an impromptu lake, had yet to evaporate. We could see the evaporation which had already occurred in the suspension of colored particles in the shallow pools of water between the crusts of salt, giving them all an odd pastel hue.

Death Valley is above all (or should we say below all?) a splendid natural world. Here’s more proof, if you need it.

The sand dunes which cover only a portion of the valley floor, looking east as the sun set behind us. The sunset was long and slow and a marvel of changing landscape.

The children also had a great time in this particular natural world.

In case you do not recognize our furry friend here, it’s a tarantula, about the size of the palm of your hand and definitely worthy of respect.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s not a child!

Alex and Brendan sated after running and rolling around in the dunes together for a couple of hours.

You’re absolutely right.

However, Charlie discovered this beast during a collective walk up a canyon with shattered rocks everywhere, jagged edges and flat faces, and stream beds in the scree moulded by the recent storm. Perhaps you can’t tell from the photo, but the spider was very well camouflaged on these broken rocks. I walked right by it and didn’t see it. Charlie did, and proceeded to take several pictures of his own. I kept telling him to keep his distance: don’t these creatures jump?

For obvious reasons, the tarantula was the highlight of the trip for the boys.

Charlie in a white shirt (still, after all that diving into the sand!) at dusk.

Which is not to say that they were bored. There was a swimming pool in the Furnace Creek Ranch, where we all stayed, which they enjoyed together in the evening. They were able to amuse themselves during the parents’ various tours of the natural world. Even the history of Death Valley was interesting for children. Have you ever seen pictures of the borax mining wagons being hauled by 20 mules out of the valley? That was worth a second look.

Thanksgiving dinner itself was served in the Furnace Creek Inn. It was pleasant enough, but dwarfed by the scenery. Here are some more examples of the visual feast that we shared in Death Valley: as ever, click to enlarge.