Across Death Valley

Miracle was still feeling pretty rough from her concussion. Luckily, the symptoms became less cognitive and turned into more physiological—shoulder and neck cramps and the like. I tried my best to massage her shoulders, but I have not the strength of a masseuse, so we began to look around and happened upon a fairly incredible spot at the edge of Death Valley—Tecopa Springs and its neighbor, Shoshone. 

Yes, I know Furnace Creek is the place everyone needs to see when in the hottest, driest, lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere. But we were swayed into this alternate oasis by a couple factors, namely the temperature and price. Death Valley was hitting about 100 degrees that day and in Tecopa Springs, we held at a more reasonable 88. The resort—a sort of ghost town with cinder block bathhouses—had cheap camping with the famous hot springs included. The masseuse—a real miracle worker (pun intended), if there ever was one—told Miracle to take a soak and come see her immediately. 

Miracle and I have been married now for 18 months. We honeymooned in California at an AirBnB with a salt water pool and a hot tub. We had our own suite and around the corner, hidden from view, was an outdoor shower. Anyone who knows my wife, knows she is a sex positive person; she believes people should embrace their bodies and their sexuality; she talks openly about romance and sex and relationships. She is uninhibited and, in this sense, very unlike me. So, on our honeymoon when she strips down under the California stars to shower, I remained in my trunks much like the guys from Weird Science. She teased me a little. And by the third night—after a thorough inspection of the shower area and checking line of sight from all possible directions—I finally showered outdoors in the buff. 

Which brings us to the hot springs of Tecopa—a resort that required nudity in the springs. The men and women bathhouses were completely separated and private, so it’s not like a nudist colony or something. It’s more like the locker room at a gym. Only you’re sitting in a bath sweating with some other guys, probably trying to make small talk and maintain furious eye contact. 

Miracle, of course, jumped in, no problem. As my luck would have it, the bathhouse was completely empty and I had the men’s half to myself. It was great. Relaxing. Liberating, I suppose. Then I hurriedly dressed and scampered back out to the bus. 

Tecopa/Shoshone is home to some weird carved out homes that we explored. The Manson gang used to haunt this area and it definitely has a creepy vibe. Despite being in the desert, this little oasis is also home to the pupfish—a cute blue fish that lives in the muddy bottom of the local marsh. It is the only place in the world where they live. Birds are also a big deal around here and if you sit in one spot long enough, you’re going to see some amazing winged creatures fly by. We toured the museum—with actual, real mammoth bones—and plenty of other local lore. The docent was super cool and gave us directions for crossing the Valley in our air-cooled vehicle. Take breaks, he advised. Fill up the tank before and after; gas in the valley is over $10 per gallon right now. Check and check. 

Now last time we were in California, we had our first and only date milkshakes. Miracle read about a place called China Ranch not too far from the resort and they are said to have the best date milkshakes around. Off we went. Not too far as a unit of measurement in the west is imprecise to say the least. Ten miles is certainly not too far. The first seven miles on paved road and open land flew by. It was the final three that snaked through sheer walled canyons and narrowed to a single lane with a steep (really steep) grade that made me question whether we had gone too far in the figurative sense of the phrase. But the bottom of the canyon opened up to this hidden date farm and the shakes were as delicious as advertised. A group of guys on dirt bikes made small talk and were in awe of the bus being down here. They even followed us out of the canyon and then passed us giving thumbs up. 

With our bellies full and Miracle’s neck worked out, we started across Death Valley. In the heat, in the bus, at speeds of 32 mph on the uphill, Death Valley is a long ass haul. It’s raw and brutal and beautiful and vast, fully deserving of its name. We stopped a couple of times to gander, but our dear sweet pup was having none of it and we continued on—up and out of the valley, out of the heat and into the Mojave where we camped in the coolness of a prehistoric lava field. We were laying tracks to a sight we desperately missed these past few weeks—trees. 

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