The light of the 6:30 Utah sun shined through our tent walls-flooding the tent with relief and also heat. We kept the rain-fly on the night before so our tent was preforming like a mediocre sauna. Without speaking- like most mornings- we both got up and packed our things away. We were ready to say goodbye to Lake Powell and hit the road towards California. We showered in the outdoor showers while most everyone slept down by the shore. As we often had to, we had to stop staring at the beauty of one place to explore another. We headed deeper into Utah, then Nevada. Eastern California was not LA California. It was desert California. The landscape from this span of the trip blurred together. California was Nevada was Utah. This was the giant flat desert. It's always so romantic seeing how the borders of states don't contain separate states of landscape. Our natural states are not defined by right angles and straight lines, but by the mountains, deserts, and forests that create seamless transitions across the scenic highways.
We were no where. We drove nowhere for a very long time. It was straight and so hot that the heat from the sun penetrated the windows and through the blaring a/c to heat up the skin we desperately tried to cool. I had a towel hanging from the window like a shade. Then the car shade blocking my lap. We looked ridiculous, but we often did in a car filled to the top with our belongings. So many people wince at this part of the trip as I explain it. It was hot and empty and flat, but it was my favorite part of the trip. Aside from the cacti and the miles and miles I could see in all directions, Celeste and I spent more hours talking. It feels like a kind of therapy, emptying your guts out in the middle of the desert. Yelling about your ex boyfriends and singing Beyonce and explaining why the Weeknd can't even touch Drake. I talked so much that my tongue hurt.
Strange mountains grew bigger in the distance that looked.. incredibly bizarre. They rose up in strange piles, seeming to be made of a thousand different minerals. There is this strange thing that happens to the landscape when the sun hits the right spot and you see it from a precise angle. I couldn't tell you the formula and I can barely explain the phenomena. Once close enough, these mountains rose up giant above us, but the view was incredibly 2D. We came over a hill and the sight before us looked like a giant, flat painting. All value seemed to disappear, the entire landscape before us was evenly lit. We were approaching Death Valley- we didn't know what to expect. We turned into the park and took turns expressing our bewilderment. How does this place exist? How do people work out here? What is this place?? I felt more like I was on the surface of Mars rather than the California desert. The park spanned for miles and the tourists count was low. We drove miles between each look out point and got out of the car to peer over the edge. The sun felt so heavy and I felt the need to attach my water bottle to my hand. We would later read on the Visitor Center sign that it was 118F and we were below sea level. Below sea level. 118F. The visitor center gave us the only civilization we would see until we exited the park. Again, let me interject and remind you that this was my favorite stop. It was hot and often times I feared my car would burst into flames, but it was like nothing I have ever seen before. Put it on your bucket lists, I promise it will blow your mind.
With a few hours to spare, we stopped at the Manzanar Internment Camp, one of the camps where the U.S. held Japanese-Americans in WWII. We made it just before they closed the doors to the barracks. The site was maintained incredibly well. It was informative and clean and restored to show the living conditions of the people who lived there. We read dozens of notes from residents, audio clips taken of children who grew there, and saw the graves of beloved pets who died there. We saw the cemetery where family members were buried and the basketball court where kids played. The graves were adorned with colorful origami chains and trinkets left by those who have visited. Maybe family. Most notable was the incredible heat that lingered. Death Valley is basically down the road. It was 118F there. How can we justify "relocating" humans into such a treacherous climate? The Japanese Americans came from all over the country, you can bet that many hadn't become used to 118F degree heat back at their homes. I remember feeling an incredible shame for my country. Though that isn't a completely new feeling. America makes so many drastic and inconceivable decisions out of fear. Over and over. But I don't want to get too political or take the focus off of this beautiful place. It captured a sour time in our country, but.. it did happen. I remember learning about the camps briefly in history classes. It was touched on and then we moved on to discussing the holocaust, leaving our own mistakes overshadowed by a much bigger mistake. I think it is incredibly important to remember the mistakes our country has made, the mistakes our country is making. There were fresh flowers on a grave at Manzanar.
Photographer on the road