Psychedelia in the Valley of Death

My girlfriend and I decided to submit to the enduring cliche, the infamous pipe dream of taking psychedelics in the desert–a vast landscape you’ll get lost in for hours as it enchants and humbles you. The never-ending horizon allows for gazing at the lifeless landscape of Death Valley, which turns out to be perfect place for a trip, provided that the weather isn’t torturous like the blazing summer. The clean air and dissipating clouds allow you to watch the stars and see visions in the clear sky.

Not far away from Manzanar–the site of the most famous concentration work camps the Japanese were imprisoned in during World War II–we’re camping in Panamint Springs. Just inside Death Valley National Park–which is the size of Connecticut–we’re in a flatland surrounded by mountains in every direction. They are covered by warm, deep colors, every shade of maroon, orange, brown, grey, charcoal, and silver that dominate the rocks piled up on each mountain’s side. The stout natural structures mingle with the low clouds that envelop  their nuanced depressions and piled rubble.

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Rare Moment of a Lake from the Recent Storm in the Panamint Springs Flats.

Just below the mountains is an expansive yet shallow lake forged by recent California Storm Lucifer. Reflected in the pool is Mt. Whitney, which is covered in a flesh blanket of snow from the generous winter that placated the vicious drought. The shallow pond provides beautiful photography, a transient moment that would be gone in the morning as the water dries up.

Driving on the highway to the heart of the park in Furnace Creek, you find the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. They are anything but flat. Billions of tiny rocks clump together like the formation of a planet or the gathering of a dust bunny. Creating gloriously smooth dunes that evolve aimlessly with time and conjure delicate curves; they are eternal yet impermanent. Driving back into Panamint Springs after climbing  around the dunes, the atmospheric perspective provides an aqua-blue that looks like an ocean but is only the sunlight drenching the flats where our campsite is located.

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Vast Mesquite Sand Dunes. 

The stars come out shortly after the Sun descends behind the mountains, and generously populate the clean clear sky. Innumerable and sparkling, you can find constellation and the milky way or simply get lost in the totally encompassing Universe above. There are few chances to see such a gorgeous display of astronomy. We enjoy some hot dogs around the fire with some beer, then a read, before heading off to bed.

The morning wakes me early, and the lifeless desert is as quiet and reserved as the evening before. It is the perfect time to come to Death Valley, tepid temperatures and sunny days provide the ideal conditions for camping and hiking. I enjoy a coffee and read a little from Here I Am by Jonathon Safran Foer, Illuminations by poet Arthur Rimbaud, and a chapter from Tame, a novel my girlfriend is working on. It’s the perfect start to an eventful day.

My girlfriend wakes up, and before you know it, were on the road to the bottom of the stand-able Earth, the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin. Badwater Road is effortless to drive down as you coast to -288 feet below sea level. It is not advised to walk on the basin during the summer, as the heat is oppressive. Even at the mild 65 degrees, it is extremely hot as the sun bakes the un-shaded flats.

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Surrounding Landscape Reflected off the Pool of Rain on the Salt Flats of Badwater Basin. 

There is another shallow pool from the storm at the bottom of the salt flat basin. As we walk onto Badwater, the pond perfectly reflects the gargantuan higher terrain. It is overwhelming, fully mesmerizing, and undeniably beautiful. Rolling up pant legs and taking off shoes, one appears to walk on water, where there are tiny shrimp in a fossilized exoskeleton that are found in the mud clay and salt. We’re told they’ve been fossilized in the ground for millions of years, only surfacing when it rains, which is extremely rare in one of the driest places on Earth.

After immersing ourselves in the lowest place we’ve ever stood, we’re off to other-other-worldly sites. At the most famous lookout in Death Valley, Zabriskie Point, the landscape swells and rolls forever in a spectrum of colors which range from bright to warm. I stop wondering why this is the most famous point in the park. It’s dazzling, mind-bending, intoxicating, and out of this world.

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Hypnotic Rolling Earth at Zabriskie Point. 

On the way back to Panamint Springs, we hike the narrows of Mosaic Canyon. We don’t make it to the trail’s destination, the meeting of two separate stones that’s 700,000,000 years in the making, because we want to make it back to the camp before dark to take mushrooms. If you could get between those stones, though, you could study the history of almost a billion years. I’m sure it is a never-ending debate between scientists on whether to cut through the stones to study the history of the region. Still, the narrows of the hike are rigid, but smooth behemoths. The hike is very pretty and one day I’ll come back to finish it.

Back at the camp, we take mushrooms. The fire is raging with no end, tinges of black smoke are coming at me, poignantly moving forward with only an intricate shadow of darkness, the rest only an opaque obscurity. It blurs the vision behind it, bending reality between what the fire is obscuring and what my mind is. The edges of everything sharpen, then disintegrate. The ink of my pen delays as it bleeds onto the page. I breathe out a large exhale of fabricated smoke. Everything other than nature I perceive as inorganic and harmful. A tractor roaring in the distance is meaningless, an invention of man. I acquiesce to the cliche that we as humans should do nothing but exist within the natural order.

The sides of rocks in every color morph and melt off one another and onto the ground. The atmospheric perspective of Mt. Whitney covered in snow, the parched, dying desert, and the orange orb of the sunset leave me feeling that everything and nothing that is beautiful, terrible, gorgeous, destructive, wonderful, and terrifying are happening all at once.

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Rare Photo of Myself, in the Narrows of Mosaic Canyon.

My body becomes irrelevant as I can perceive myself without it. Time is irrelevant as I lose my perception of it. The focus on every ticking second, futile. I stare at the clouds and they become anything my mind wants them to be. I see fluffy mustaches, visions of Albert Einstein and Friedrich Nietzsche. They shift and transcend everything, constantly evolving to what my brain decides should be there in the blue sky.

My girlfriend and I stare at each other sitting in our lawn chairs, the sky above us swirling endlessly like a snow globe, a microcosm of everything. The sprawling branches of a tree in front of me are rivaling its  thin green leaves. Life and death are at odds with one another. In this moment, I can’t wait to shed my body and become what I always was. The fire roars.

Before it gets dark, we walk into the desert, imagining if we took more mushrooms or a stronger psychedelic,  the distant horizon would seem like an achievable destination we could conceivably get to. We acknowledge how dangerous this would be, wandering aimlessly in the desert at night, but continue walking as the Sun goes down behind the panorama of natural edifices.

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Bottom of the Mesquite San Dunes.

I look at the intricacies of plants, the history in the shades of rock. We sit down on one of them and watch the sky, the North Star peers through the clouds and illuminates my dilated pupils with a kaleidoscope, every color emitting and radiating from the single impenetrable light source. The sunset behind the mountains is green, then blue, then back to an orange hue. We feel the shifting, evolving, eternal hand of nature as a God Unknown.

Now its dark, so we walk back to the camp before we can’t see anything in front of us. We go to site’s restaurant, trip the fuck out about people, their differences, and drink some beer while eating pizza. Social interaction is incredibly difficult, and we come down as we spend the rest of the night sitting by the fire, contemplating what we had just experienced and the incredible weekend that is coming to an end.


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