This story picks up with Mom and me walking into Death Valley when The Mighty Truck could go no farther. Read Part 1 of this adventure here. Just a reminder, the photos from this adventure were lost in tragic circumstances, so some of the photos in this post are from other adventures. The rest we made later. One is real.
Mom and I walked up the car trail that had made The Mighty Truck cry uncle. When we reached the rocks that had defeated The Truck, Mom stopped for a closer look now that fear and Truck weren’t blocking her view.
“Look,” she said. “The stain is still on the rock! Who knows how long it’s been here.”
I sniffed the rock for clues. “It smells like a car peed here, and it was in distress when it happened,” I read. “This is a bad omen!”
“The important thing is that it wasn’t our truck that sprung a leak on that rock,” Mom said. “Somebody had an emergency here, but if it weren’t for the signs they left behind we might have had the same fate.”
“Oh no! Should we search for them?” I said, afraid we might discover a dead body and hoping that if there were survivors they would eat Mom’s food instead of mine.
“If they hadn’t been rescued, their car would still be here,” Mom said. “Remember, someone else’s emergency doesn’t mean certain death for us. It just reminds us to pay attention.”
We walked over the Truck-tripping rocks without so much as a stumble, and continued up the mountain road. We were the only living things as far as the nose could smell. Even the scrubby bushes and little cacti were dead and shriveled. As we climbed higher, the stark naked mountains exposed more and more of themselves. Mom stared with her mouth hanging open as they revealed the private cracks and scraggly bits that more modest mountains hide under trees and meadows, but when she tried to take pictures, they came out too graphic and messy under such a harsh, unblinking sky.
While the mountains’ nakedness had been frightening yesterday when I thought I would be stranded up here, now that I looked again I saw something different. The mountains were brutal, but honest. They didn’t hide what was inside behind fluffy plants and shimmery lakes, but showed everything they were inside without shame to anyone brave enough to look without flinching. Although a basic mountain in the Sierras would look at home in the Cascades, the grasslands of Oregon could blend in in New Mexico, and one part of the California coast looks much like another, every bit of desert is unlike any other. A dog could spend a lifetime in the desert and still not see everything it had to show him.
We finally came over the top of the hill and followed the road into a valley that looked like it hadn’t felt human paws since the beginning of time. As we came down from the pass, I started to see faint squiggles of roads slithering between the toes of some of the mountains. I only caught glimpses of them from some angles before they disappeared behind the rocks, like bugs that scatter when you turn on the light. I thought they must be very rocky roads indeed to blend into the mountains like they did, but when we reached the valley floor, we turned onto a road that was so smooth and wide that it would have been at home in a quiet country neighborhood.
“I really think that the GPS took us over some crazy Jeep trails that shouldn’t even be marked as roads,” Mom sighed.
“How do you know?” I asked, afraid that Mom would want to come back from a different direction, just to prove The Witch wrong.
“Just a hunch,” Mom shrugged. “But I suppose the problems you live through always seem worse than the ones you only hear about. You never know what perils you would have found on the road you didn’t take, I guess.”
Before long we found ourselves at the edge of an enormous, flat patch of empty land.
“This is it!” Mom said. “We’re here.”
“You still have a mile to go!” The Witch objected.
“Oh hush,” Mom said, silencing The Witch and stepping onto the blank spot that was as enormous and empty as a Walmart car kennel on Christmas day. Then we searched for a rock.
Now that I was standing on it, I discovered that the ground wasn’t smooth pavement at all, but covered in stop-sign-shaped tiles like the floor of a public bathroom. It felt hard like tile under my paws, too. Mom walked to the nearest rock and squinted at the tiles around it. I stood next to her and looked hard as well. When I looked really, really, really closely, I could see a faint smear, but I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining it.
“They sure are… subtle, aren’t they?” Mom said.
“Maybe no one’s given them a reason to move in a long time,” I said. “Try standing over there and whistling for it to come.”
“The rocks don’t actually move on their own,” Mom said. “They figured out a few years ago that it has something to do with the rain. Something about mud and wind, I don’t remember. I guess even Death Valley is being affected by the drought.”
I looked at the naked mountains, and couldn’t imagine they had seen rain since the dinosaurs. “You haven’t even tried asking them nicely,” I said.
Once Mom had taken five billion, three hundred and ninety-seven million, eight hundred and sixty-two thousand, nine hundred and thirty-one pictures in hopes that the streak might show in at least some of them, we turned around and walked back in the direction of The Truck.
There was something bothering me, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. “Hey Mom,” I said. “Are you a little bit disappointed that the rocks’ footprints weren’t that impressive after everything we went through to get here?”
“I think that the bravery and perseverance it took is exactly why I’m not disappointed,” she said. “Can you think of other times when we’ve visited places on our bucket list?”
“There was Buckskin Gulch…” I said. It took us years to figure out how to get to the longest slot canyon in the world. The first time we thought the only way in was to hike for miles and miles through a river, but the river was too deep and we gave up when Mom was afraid she wouldn’t have a dry pocket for The Witch to ride in. Then we’d tried to come back in the winter when the water was lower, but it was so cold that it burned our paws and we never made it beyond the first crossing. We had discovered another entrance by chance, and Mom had been so angry that all it took was an easy mile’s walk from a different car kennel, that she almost didn’t want to walk all the way through the canyon.
“The best adventures aren’t necessarily the ones where we see something cool,” she said. “There the ones where we solve the thoughest problems. After all we’ve done to visit this place, I would have been a bit disappointed if we’d just driven down a long dirt road and parked right beside it. This feels like a triumph!”
Just then I heard a rumbling behind us. It was almost right on top of us before Mom realized it wasn’t an airplane. She grabbed my collar in a hurry and dragged me off the road.
“Oh no! They’ve come for me!!” I flinched as a truck smaller than the Mighty Truck rolled up next to us and slowed down to decide whether to execute me by firing squad or to hanging.
“Are you okay,” a woman called out the window.
Mom gave her a thumbs-up, and we watched the truck pass the road we’d taken and disappear between the toes of a different mountain.
“Yes,” Mom said when they were no more than a cloud in the distance. “Yes we are.”
The Truck’s hike back to the road took almost as long as our hike to the walking rocks, and once all four of its wheels were back on pavement, Mom took a sigh of relief and asked the way to the next trail.
“You’ll be there in about an hour and a half!” The Witch said.
“You’d better not take us on any more sketchy dirt roads!” Mom warned. “By the way, show me a gas station on the way.”
“The nearest gas station adds 40 minutes to your trip!” The Witch mocked.
Mom looked at the squiggle we were supposed to follow. “Nice try,” she said. “That looks suspiciously like a dirt road. Take me on the numbered highways.”
“Okay,” The Witch said like a threat. “There’s a gas station in Furnice Creek, but you’re not going to like it.”
“All I need is a few gallons just in case and a snack. I’ll even eat some M&M’s or potato chips,” she said.
“Okay, get ready for a 2 hour drive.”
Mom fought with The Witch the whole way out of Death Valley. The Witch would tell Mom to turn, Mom would say no, and The Witch would add another hour to our drive to punish us.
“This phone is getting senile,” Mom said.
“Is senile a word for when someone tells you something you don’t want to believe?” I asked.
“No, really. The other day I opened an AllTrails map, and it showed me the route for a trail in Utah that we visited over Christmas. And there were those weird hijinks the other day when it dumped us an hour from the trailhead. I think it might be time for a trade-in.”
“I heard that!” The Witch said. “I’m always listening, you know.”
“I’ve never had a phone last long enough to trade in before,” Mom said to remind The Witch how she’d taken good care of her all these years.
When the sun rose the next morning, I saw we were camped at the bottom of a bread-grey pile of sand that lumped up out of blank desert. I had never climbed dooms quite so tall and steep, and as we climbed toward the big one in the center, it’s sides slipped down in front of us so for every step up we took, the doom pulled us back down almost as far. Mom was having an extra hard time of it because of her lack of legs. When we stood at the top of each one, the wind whipped through my fur and blew the sand into my eyes.
“Look this way, bud!” Mom kept saying. “The sun is behind you when you face that way. You know that’s no good for a black dog!”
“But if I turn the other way, the sand gets in my eyes!” I squinted.
Mom took many pictures that probably didn’t seem all that different from other pictures from when I’ve visited other dooms, and then she took some videos of the sand moving across the dooms in clouds, and over the top like mist off a wave.
“These will make a great video for your youtube channel,” she said. “Come on, let me film you climbing so people can see how the sand slides down as you climb up. That’ll blow people’s minds.”
When I reached the top of the doom, Mom filmed how up close how the sand dissolved in front of her with each step. Then she filmed how the sand came up to smack her as she fell on her face.
“Okay, let’s go,” Mom said. “I have a couple of interviews this afternoon and I need to shower before they start.”
To be continued…