Have you ever heard people talk about hell on earth? It conjures up images of a dry, arid wasteland where the heat rises off the ground and scorches your skin. A place where only dangerous creatures can thrive. A place where humans weren't meant to survive. Well, what if it wasn't so bad? Trust me, I've been. Today, in partnership with British Airways, I'm going to tell you about my favourite holiday moment which began in a rather unlikely location and ended with an even more unlikely perfection of timing.
In 2016 I landed in LAX with my boyfriend. He had convinced me to skip my life long dream of visiting Yosemite National Park in favour of the often over-looked Death Valley National Park (in fairness, the name is a bit off-putting). If I'm being honest, I hadn't done my research. I wasn't expecting much. Google image search was really as far as I gotten. Friends informed me that Furnace Creek in Death Valley is officially the hottest place on earth. Delightful. Did I mention that I basically turn into a monster when I get too hot and sweaty? Oh and I'm Irish, so I'm nearly translucent. Just as well we were visiting in February when the average temperature is around 23 degrees C. In July temperatures can top 50 degrees C. I'm melting just thinking about it.
We picked up our rental car and drove nearly four hours to Panamint Springs near the entrance of the park. Already the landscape was absolutely incredible and nearly completely devoid of any sign of life. We followed empty roads winding along the edges of rusty orange canyons as US fighter jets practicing manoeuvres raced us to the bottom and into Star Wars Canyon. Yep, you heard me. Scenes from the original Star Wars movies were filmed in Death Valley national park. Now that I think about it, that could be my boyfriend's REAL motive for suggesting Death Valley in the first place.
When we reached our camping site I was greeted by two buildings and a spattering of white tents. I walked towards the small, slightly scorched, diner. It was the kind of building that looked like it had seen one too many sandstorms but would probably survive to see a few more. My boots were covered in dust within minutes. I was about to grab a table when I ran into the Road Runner. You know, that giant blue bird from the Looney Toons?? Well, I met him. He's a lot less colourful in real life, and smaller. And not once did I hear him utter anything even resembling "Beep Beep". Yet, I was completely starstruck. My inner child was absolutely living the dream. I had climbed inside my childhood TV and joined the Looney Toons in real life. Quickly I checked the cloudless sky for a falling anvil. How had I not known that Death Valley was the home of the roadrunner?! Now all I needed was to find myself his coyote counterpart.
That night we sipped iced tea and watched stars shooting across the most dazzling night sky I've ever witnessed. Zero light pollution meant thousands and thousands of sparkling stars above our heads. I was starting to get why my boyfriend had been so adamant about Death Valley being the perfect holiday spot.
The next day we hopped in the car and headed towards Furnace Creek. Warnings along the road cautioned us to turn off our air conditioning to prevent the car from over-heating. A battered wooden sign pointed to a tiny dirt road leading to an abandoned ghost town. I felt like I was living in an old time western. The urge to explore was overwhelming. As we descended deeper into Death Valley we started to notice bright yellow flowers popping up in clumps across the desert. The further we drove the hotter it got and the more flowers appeared until it got to the point where the entire desert looked like a giant field of wildflowers. We watched as people pulled over and used large, expensive-looking cameras to snap seemingly endless streams of photos. I looked at my boyfriend and said " I like flowers as much as the next person, but once you have one photo, how many more could you possibly need?!". He shrugged and we drove on in bewilderment. What was so special about these wild flowers? Had these people never seen flowers before? Was it a particularly unusual type of flower? I didn't know. But the more I thought about it the more those dainty yellow flowers impressed me. They were not just surviving in one of the harshest environments on the face of the earth, they were THRIVING. These little plants were not as delicate as they looked. They had persevered through great adversity and now it was their time to shine. It reminded me a lot of where I was at with my blog and my life at the time. Suddenly photos didn't seem like such a silly idea.
We pulled over at the Artist's Palette, an area of bright colour on the face of the Black Mountains. My boyfriend started to explain the geology behind the different rock colours (he does that). Something to do with oxidisation and volcanos. I worked my way closer to the brilliant flowers, stepping over side-winder rattlesnake tracks cut into the sand. This was an alien world. My tshirt stuck to my chest with sweat, my skin was already starting to burn, but I was in love. Every dry breath, every bizarrely shaped joshua tree, every deserted valley; this landscape had stolen my heart. I crouched down to capture a photo of the flowers with the Artist's Palette in the background. I'm so glad to have the memory of that moment.
And guess what guys?! As we drove back to the campsite that night Mr Wile E. Coyote finally made an appearance, right in the middle of the road. He stared me in the eye as we slowly cruised by. Tumbleweeds rolled past behind him and I thought again about how otherworldly Death Valley National Park truly was. I could have spent weeks there exploring the hiking trails, watching the sunset over the dunes without a single other person around and being amazed by how much life was supported by a place where death was in the name.
A couple of weeks later I realised why everyone had been so eager to pull over and snap photos of those sunshine-coloured flowers. What I had actually witnessed during that trip to Death Valley was an extremely rare "super bloom" of wildflowers called "desert gold" which only occurs every 10 years. I had unknowingly stumbled upon a once in a decade botanical frenzy. It was only when I saw the international media coverage that I realised how incredibly lucky I had been. So many ridiculous circumstances came together perfectly to create that experience in a place unlike any other on earth which is why it is my favourite holiday moment.