A Dirtbags Journey to Death Valley

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This is the story of how two dirtbags found themselves in the lowest point of the United States sleeping in their car beside the beaches of Malibu starting each morning with a warm beer. It began after yet another eight day shift working as councilors in wilderness therapy program. We packed up the classic dirtbag car, a Subaru Outback covered in stickers documenting the many adventures of which it has been a part. With the windows rolled down we left our desert work home and set out west on I-70 with Zion National Park in our sights. With a playlist featuring early 2000s pop punk and country blaring it seemed as though we had the world at our fingertips. This 6 day round trip to California had endless opportunity and very limited planning. The hope to climb our way around the national parks leading up to Los Angeles was cut down due to rain, but we wouldn’t let the impending storm clouds put a damper on the trip. We allowed that to fuel our creativity.

At around 9pm with the sun having just barely set, we arrived at a dirt road that would lead us to our home for the night. There was a hazy blue hue to the night as the Subaru crawled slowly over dirt mounds while we scoured to find the perfect spot. Then suddenly as if a scene from a movie, there it was. Our home for the evening. Immediately our giddiness ramped up. We put on a song that lit up the night, jumped out of the car, and danced to our hearts desire while setting up camp. Who knew a little town outside of Zion could hold such magic. The tent was covered in fairy lights, the fire was raging, and the beer was only slightly warm. Perfect, cozy, where we would lay our head and call home for an evening.
The next morning we groggily woke up poking our heads outside of the tent and decided that it would be time to start the trek towards Angel’s Landing in Zion. This is a classic Zion hike that leads you up a trail that at times doesn’t seem humanly possible. Some people are seen clinging to chains that are there in attempts to keep folks from falling off of the edge to individuals who scramble up the trail like a billygoat. After sweating and scrambling as the day went from morning to afternoon I felt on top of the world reaching the peak. It was the perfect start to a road trip. Upon departing Zion after an unintentional 13 mile hike day it was now time to decide the next destination. With rainy weather surrounding us, the only place with sunshine for the foreseeable future was Death Valley National Park. Neither of us had any previous inclination to go to the hottest and biggest national park in the lower 48 states, but no rain sounded good. Looking it up online it seemed incredibly bleak. It was sited to have very limited water and gas, and was known to get incredibly hot. So, plan was to fill up on both and head in to the dry heat.
Though it seemed to be quite a desolate place, we put it into the gps and started the journey. Driving through Arizona and finding ourselves near the Las Vegas desert with no gas it did not appear our plan was going well. I looked over to the driver side of the car and all he could do was grin and say, “we’ll make it… I’m sure of it,” in an unconvincing manner. Though I was slightly panicked, which is honestly how I spend most of my time, he convinced me that it would all be okay. After successfully reaching the gas station resupply and hitting the road again we were back to confident on our journey to Death Valley. Turning left past an alien themed gas station and driving down a road that seemed to have no end in sight it seemed we were either right on track or in a twilight zone episode. The sun began to set and our exhaustion was setting in. It was time to find a new place to sleep that night and quick. Soon as nothing developed we got to the point where we just wanted to pull off any where we could. Luckily, maybe, anywhere showed up in the form of what seemed to be a camp ground for transient travelers.  It was a desolate land with a trailer that has fallen into a sink hole as its postcard image. After a rainy, windy night directly from a horror film we continued down the road to nowhere with haste. Soon we saw the sign indicating we were entering Death Valley. We went on to find ourselves in the “badwaters” at the lowest point below sea level in the US. Walking barefoot through the salted ground was a strange experience. We walked for what seemed forever. Looking back the people along the boardwalk began to look like ants. Though Death Valley was not our first choice in places to visit, it ended up being a place that was so odd it was cool. It was a place that seemed to be the island of misfit toys of the national parks. A place that kept us laughing due to how odd it was. Where the alien landscape made anything and  any sight possible and almost probable.
Upon saying our goodbyes to Death Valley by way of a ghost town, we set southern California as the next target. Another free campsite surrounded by a dirt bike competition,  a sea of solar panels, and endless wind-turbines guided us and eventually we could smell the the ocean on the coastal wind. The Pacific sat before us as a beacon. It was the marker that soon our road trip would be complete and we’d be heading back to Utah. As someone who is fueled by the sea, I pleaded that our first stop be to the ocean. I needed to stick my feet in the sea for the first time in over 2 years the cool waves connected us the the entire earth. Rejuvenating the spirit. Driving through the hills of Malibu, following the map towards where land meets the sea. Finally, after smelling and tasting the salt in the air, then hearing the wind and waves the endless blue comes into view. I looked over with the biggest smile on my face, turning up a song that made me feel alive. Lastly, dipping my toes into the water, the feel of the vast ocean made the weird, rainy road trip fully worth it. We spent the last 4 days driving from the desert to the ocean. We awoke every morning by poking our head out of the tent to see what the next day would bring. We existed off of warm beer and hummus. After cooking breakfast in the parking lot near Venice Beach, garnering quite a few comments from old hippies how we reminded them of their youth, it was time add the sticker to the Subaru and head back to our desert home. Until, the next dirtbag adventure, which is assuredly, only one eight day shift away.

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