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A Road Trip into Death Valley

May 17th, 2011 · No Comments · En Route

In Margaret Murray’s novel, Sundagger.net, six New Age seekers journey to Death Valley in a cramped VW bus, together with their sweat lodge leader. The group’s intent is to hold a Native American vision quest, once there. In this excerpt, the mostly-urban travelers encounter a wild land of fierce winds and disorienting geological trompe l’oeil.

The wind was coming up. Rowan fumed as the bus slid all over the road. They passed ragged chocolate mountains forming a ridge around a lake of dried mud and the beehive furnaces he remembered from his trip to the TPC/IP conference in Palm Springs last spring.

“It’s a mirage! A what-do-you-call it, oasis!” squeaked Tracine. She spit out sunflower seeds into a paper trash bag, annoying him.

“The land slopes from east to west going below a sea that disappeared eons ago,” Anna read from the guidebook. Torn rubber tires littered the side of the road like wings from giant crows.

“Where are we?” Dan asked.

“The only signs I see now are minus elevation signs. This much below sea level. This much. The numbers get bigger and bigger,” said Tracine.

Finally they reached Furnace Creek.

“This is ninety. That’s minus ninety feet elevation,” Dan marveled.

They all got out at the Furnace Creek General Store. Ten minutes later, Dan and Rowan came back with candy, chips, soft drinks, and more beer in brown paper bags. Jim bought bags of Doritos chips while Anna returned with Calistoga Water. They all had to wait for Tracine to get her curly fries.

Now Stonekeeper insisted on driving, so Rowan exchanged places with Two Crows, who moved to the front seat.

“The only fish in the river are fossils,” read Anna as Stonekeeper drove the van over a small bridge above a river of pink and gray sand.

They passed a sign, Something River. Tufts of dried plant life emerged from tiny cracks in the dry arroyo, hinting of spring.

“The only river I see is a river of dark stones on a gray bed,” said Tracine.

“It was a sea,” read Anna. “Camels roamed right here, mastodons.”

Two Crows pointed out a solitary gray butte shrouded in haze, the blue horizon like smoke. “That’s where we’re going,” he said.

Stonekeeper stopped the bus so Rowan could take some shots before the clouds covered the butte.

“It’s beyond Zabriskie Point in Golden Canyon,” Two Crows explained.

The wind was roaring when they stopped again. Rowan got shots of the hills on one side like crumpled gold silk, rippling and peaking. The other side of the hills was dark gray.

“Some Golden Canyon. Duh.”

“You can see where the waves lapped against the mountains,” read Anna from the back of the bus. She said the ruggedness of the mountains was not caused by water erosion like other mountains but by the wind erosion.

The bus was like a bucking bronco in the wind.

They passed a sign—Salt Creek, Death Valley.

“That says it all,” said Rowan. Through the dirty van window, he took pictures of salt streams curling through dry cracked crevices like a bitter moonscape.

“That’s Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Cornfield,” crooned Dan, banging on the drum.

“It really has a sweet sound,” said Rowan. He put his hand back to grab the paper bag full of beer, snapped open a can and took a swig, offering it to Dan.

“We gotta have a campfire tonight,” said Dan.

“Yeah, let’s pop some of that stone-ground corn from Devil’s Corn-field,” Rowan answered, and grinned when he saw Two Crows damn near choke on his cigarette laughing.

Used with permission. Copyright 2008 by Margaret Murray. Her new novel, Dreamers, is due out September 15.

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