Hell's Gate at Death Valley

Road into Death Valley

by Jason Vines

If you want a visceral education on why Death Valley has its name, visit during summer as I did this past month. With the mercury approaching 130, the heat suffused every fiber of my being when I dared to hike a short distance. My fingers burned when I gripped my camera. I thought I knew what heat was like, but Death Valley showed me once again the limits of imagination unleavened by experience.

Extreme heat danger in Death Valley
This urgent sign at the start of Death Valley’s Gold Canyon Trail warns potential hikers to reconsider hiking after 10 AM because of the extreme heat. I walked on a portion of the trail to see what it was like before deciding I agreed with the sign.

I had visited Death Valley before, in August 2010, but, to be honest, I was much fatter then and just stayed in the air conditioned vehicle but for a quick pop-out here and there to snap photos, without trying an inch of any of the trails. So I didn’t develop proper appreciation of what makes Death Valley special.

I’m glad to have become a bit more worldly, in experiencing the power of Death Valley, this time around. (I’m also glad the climate was more temperate for most of my two-week road trip through California in the tail end of June!)

The featured photo shows the road into Death Valley from the east. It felt like the way down to hell, which makes its sobriquet “Hell’s Gate” appropriate.

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