OPEN LETTER TO:

The Intentional Traveler

January 17, 2004 (with a slight amendment on 23 January, and now accompanied by a rebuttal by Michael Mccarthy, proprietor of "The Intentional Traveler" website [click to go to his rebuttal])

Dear Intentional Traveler:

On your "Intentional Traveler" website (click here to read it) there is an article by Michael McCarthy entitled "Life After Death," which title is a pun on Death Valley and what lies beyond it to the east.

The article is very well written, don't get me wrong, and it was an entertaining read, for a while. Then it dawned on me that it was very insulting to one of those places on earth that feed my life and enthuse me. Enthuse as in the early nineteenth century spiritual sense of the word's meaning, of course.

May I rebut that article? I'll entitle my alternative view of the region:



Life, East of Death

It caught me by surprise that an entire area that inspires me greatly was castigated as the "asshole of the universe" by Michael McCarthy, who felt he had driven right off the map as he exited Death Valley to the east. He thought he had entered a place where the map should have said "Here Be Dragons," and said the place he entered "brought a feeling of utter despair that I hope never to experience again."

My God, man, are you already dead? This is a very enlivening place for a human being to visit. It is a privilege to be alive, it is a double privilege to be alive in and around Death Valley. And "around" includes east-of.

In your article you slam Carson City. Contrary to your description, it is a well-equipped and very hospitable town. Your caricature of the people in a casino is imaginatively written. I can tell from the way it was written that you fear not to look down on those older and obviously less wise than yourself.

You suggest that in Nevada you have stepped back in time, even into the Third World. So now you are slamming those who not of your time, who did he best they could, and those currently not in your privileged situation, who also tend to do the best they can, given nothing. The past was, and the Third World is, inhabited by humans, people just like you and I.

Rural Nevada and California have some areas where poverty grinds, as you observe, that is true. But that does not diminish the stature of the individuals living in such circumstances.  Poverty is not an automatic impediment to greatness of heart, mind or spirit. To me, your language suggests you suffer from inner poverty.

Your description of Death Valley and its amenities are misleading, to be overly kind about it. The resort at Furnace Creek is world class, a bit pricey, but not as bad as you suggest: check for bargain prices on the Internet.

Across the street we peasants stay in cheaper motel-type accomodations, with a wonderful and huge warm-water pool. The food service in both places is great. Not particularly cheap, but hey, this is a world-famous U.S. National Park!

The fact that you actually experienced an overcast day in Death valley is something to celebrate. I have never seen a true overcast there.

Clouds Over Death Valley's Panamint Range, Seen from Badwater

But even with some clouds over the Panamint range, the lessening of the almost brutal light of an unimpeded sun allows one to see structure and color in the valley walls that are normally not visible. And without the heat waves rising in direct sunlight, you can see farther, horizontally, with greater clarity.

Northern Reach of Death Valley's Panamint Range, Seen from Badwater

So, the valley not being to your liking, you scooted up and out the east side and came to Marta Beckett's famous Opera House, where she still performs to packed audiences at age 87!

Yes, when there is a show the house is typically packed with people from all over the world who purposely schedule this cultural treasure into their purposeful globe-trotting.

Where do they stay? There are some rooms at the attached hotel, there are rooms at the Longstreet Hotel & Casino and at another motel just to the north in Nevada's Amargosa Valley. There are about five sizable motels in Pahrump, where you could only find one, and only after asking.

The Longstreet Hotel, Nevada Border, North of Death Valley Junction, with the Funeral Range (East Wall of Death Valley) in the Background

Folks will even stay in Las Vegas and drive to the performances from there.  Maybe 80 miles.

I'll grant you, the place is a bit plain on the outside. The grounds are usually messy as well.  But we are talking external appearances.  It is a work of art inside.  Marta painted the building's decor herself.

My guest-room, for example, had a false headboard painted above the bed, a large golden bird, with a companion artwork looking at me from the ceiling. That was nice, but what caught my imagination was a wardrobe painted on the wall with its door open and a female dancer's dainty costumes hanging inside. (I woke up several times in the night thinking she had returned to "our" room. I had parked my shoes next to hers, as a gesture of friendliness.)


Photos inside Room at Death Valley Juntion's Opera House Hotel

The eating area and hallways were done from bottom to top mimicking Parisian walls, balconies and eateries. The whole place is a work of unbelievable love, toil, and imagination.


 

Photos inside Dining Area of Opera House Hotel

 

 

So, you say the place should be called "Bleak House?" You never even went inside the open doors! Your imagined fears drove you on down the road! I am beginning to picture you in my mind as spiritually blind and imaginatively bland.

Your descriptions of Shoshone and Tecopa Hot Springs Resort are equally laughable. The springs were named after Chief Tecopa, so there is no 'h,' I recently learned. At the hot springs you observed that "This is the place where God died," . . . "He crawled under a rock and closed his eyes."

So, afraid of being in Tecopa in the dark, you headed for the thoroughly modern town of Pahrump and had more sad observations that same night. The next day your young son decided he really liked the hotel in Pahrump and wished you could stay longer.  Your wife observed the hotel's food was a real bargain (subsidized by those old wretched gamblers you made fun of previously in your article). Great!  Tell your young son that I like Pahrump too.

Let me contrast what you wrote at Shoshone, Tecopa and Death Valley Junction with what I have felt there. The Crowbar café in Shoshone is a good place to eat, with friendly help, good food, and good prices. I haven't a clue where you keep getting these impresions of darkness and desertedness.


Photo of Crowbar Café in Shoshone

I already alluded to the sharpening of the imagination in the Opera House hotel, an awakening encouraged by knowing you are surrounded with the love and art of a great person who reaches out all over the world from her lowly business establishment in Death Valley Junction, California.

She commands audiences, some rich and famous, from everywhere, plus lowly denizens like me who can afford the modest entry fee! Is that not something worthy of just a little respect and contemplation?

Back in the early 1990's I took a serious hike in the mountains to the east of Tecopa. It was hot, and I was a physical wreck by the time I got back to the car. It was my first time in this area, I had sweat like a pig and drank over a gallon and a half of water in just a few hours. I was caked with my own dried sweat and muscle soreness was setting in. I got back to my car and thought to turn back for Vegas, to go home.

But while on my hike I had half-heartedly wished for a hot spring to soak sore muscles in. So, curiously, I drove into the valley where Tecopa sits, for my first time.

Imagine my surprise when I came into the town and saw the sign: Tecopa Hot Springs! One side for men, one for women, showers mandatory (in equally hot water). No swimsuits allowed. Great! I had not packed one for a hike in desert mountains!

It is hard for me to describe the feeling of pain in the process of leaving me while lying in that hot water.  A feeling of being utterly at one with the water and the hot rocks through which it had just seeped! Surely God did crawl under a rock here, and the springs are the beneficient love-gift of that God.

Smell? A little deep-earth sulfur in the air only proves that the waters in which your body heals itself are in touch with the very innards of Mother Earth, her volcanic magmas are at rest (hopefully) not all that far below!

Mother and Father God are one at this place, their intimacy generates the heat you feel, it is the happy by-product of Divine Love!

As you utterly relax, you realize you are in the company of a few others equally appreciative of the love-gift bestowed here by this Godly duo. You can feel the love they generate beneath you entering your flesh and bones, and finally your heart and mind. You come out into the sun appreciative of the gift that is life. If there be a sign or two of poverty here or there around you, you smile and realize that with this love soaked into you, the physical condition of material goods pales to insignificance!

Jean Houston, in her autobiographical book "A Mythic Life," speaks of "Essence" as being "the deepest part of our nature, an actuall presence that is innate and inborn." (Page 123) Getting into our "Essence" makes us super-aware, capable of astounding insights and achievement. She says that "Essence is often activated by a particular geographical spot, as if Essence has for each of us a recognizable home place."

Death Valley and its valleys to the east are my primary Essence places in the United States. Copper Canyon gave me a similar feeling in Mexico. And the Pyrenees, the mountain range on the border of France, Andorra and Spain, draw me like a magnet.

When I lived in Utah I felt that sort of draw from the Uintah range too, and did ot understand it. Probably, I now see, it was because it is another east-west range and hence reminded my soul of the Pyrenees. As Houston says of herself on her page 129, . . . "some places are so strongly part of our existence that Essence returns to us there."

Photo of a View in the Pyrenees (Spain) 

I feel complete, at One with the universe, in these places. Hence my web site has many pages of pictures set in two of these places. (My visit to Copper canyon came before my web site, I'll have to go back and picture it).

The Pyrenees caused me to write and illustrate a fairytale, a work of historical fiction that would not leave me alone for years until it was done. That region is still a powerful draw.


Scene From My Medieval Fairytale Set in the Pyrenees: the Castle at Montaillou (France) where My Beloved Beatrice Once Lived

A powerful draw, one closer to where I live, is the course of the Amargosa River.  Today it is a dry streak in satellite photos.  But during ice ages, it fills Death Valley with its Lake Manly. It is fed by the seeps and springs at Shoshone and Tecopa.

I am still writing words and taking pictures describing its course. It was only 10,000 years ago that Lake Manly dried up, leaving just a pool of "Badwater" as the sign says today. Seems like only yesterday!


 

Death Valley from Dante's Peak, Looking North (above), then South to the Amergosa River Inflows





Badwater, Death Valley, Remnant of Lake Manly

So, can you see that your words desecrated what are sacred ground to me? In and east of Death Valley I find myself. In the same place, you felt you were losing yourself and felt fear, foreboding, gloom.

Perhaps it was in part because of the weather, you said a huge storm had come through the area, byways had been washed out and closed, and it was still overcast. There is usually an opportunity to watch the continuing formation of Death Valley at such a time.

Walls of debris-filled water roaring into the valley from the surrounding canyons make the bottom lanscape what you see. It is always being filled, even as tectonic forces continue to rift the valley and deepen it below the surficial eroded material we walk and drive on.

Death Valley is probably to be the home for the region's next basaltic volcanic eruption.  The basin and Range is still being pulled away from the western wall of death Valley where it terminates, thinning the crust of the earth.  It is a dynamic, living place.

My life is enriched by its just being there in my memory and imagination. A visit there is a heady experience. It returns my Essence to me, as Jean Houston would explain it. It is sacred.

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