Death Valley, California perhaps an unusual tourist destination for some, though it has a unique beauty and quietness to it that attracts people to visit from all over the world. The fact that it is one of the hottest places in the world with the highest recorded temperature is not a barrier to tourism and the lure of visiting this great wilderness.
With it’s unusual name stemming from the time of the Californian gold rush, when a group of pioneers whose story would be referred to as the “The Lost 49ers” journeyed across this immense Great Basin desert with some perishing or suffering severe hardship. Leaving the survivors to allude to this expanse through which they had traversed as, Death Valley.
Since the story of these great pioneers, travel and access has made many previously inhospitable wildernesses accessible for people to visit or escape to. When you visit today you still can’t help but feel you have travelled to an immense and unreal world, referenced poetically in Zane Grey’s a “Wanderer of the Wasteland”. “How desolate and grand! The far-away, lonely and terrible places of the earth were the most beautiful and elevating.”
There is undeniably a certain romance to visiting the desert. The idea of wandering off and disappearing into it is a thought that you carry with you at times. Edna Brush Perkins in her travelogue “The Heart of Mojave” remarks on this feeling in the following extract:
“When you are there, face to face with the earth and the stars and time day after day, you cannot help feeling that your role, however gallant and precious, is a very small one. This conviction, instead of driving you to despair as it usually does when you have it inside the walls of houses, releases you very unexpectedly from all manner of anxieties. You are frightfully glad to have a role at all in so vast and splendid a drama and want to defend it as well as you can, but you do not trouble much over the outcome because the desert mixes up your ideas about what you call living and dying.”
Tourism and the accessibility to these many great wildernesses allow us to travel to pretty much wherever we may aspire, though for whatever reason we still endeavor to visit those scenes that are suggested to us from previous travelers, be that the highest peak or the lowest desert basin. The path well travelled and these significant geographical landmarks still conjure an appeal in us and entice us to glimpse them for ourselves.
This project looks at the path well travelled as well as some of the quieter surrounding landscape and history that Death Valley has to offer. Be that the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, who have an area of land recognized as their own after years of struggle, who live alongside the more affluent tourist hub which is Furnace Creek, or the surrounding beauty of the landscape away from the standout geographical highlights. Death Valley and other great wildernesses offer more than just the discernable focal points that initially attract us and unfortunately people forget sometimes to stray from the path.