No, this post is not going to be about how the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots last weekend in the very first Super Bowl I’ve ever watched (although it was a pretty cool experience – when you finally understand what’s going on in the field, and you even have some chicken wings, American football can be quite an exciting sport), but I couldn’t miss the Friends reference when choosing a title. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the best experience I’ve had in the U.S. so far: after I came back from Hungary, I spent the last week of the winter break hiking and exploring in Death Valley National Park with nine fellow Trinity students, and the amazing people from the Recreation Office who organized it for us.
Leaving behind the snow and cold of New England, we arrived to the – I assume – always sunny Las Vegas, a place where you can even gamble on the airport, waiting for your flight. We spent our first two days in Red Rocks Canyon, near Vegas, getting to know each other while hiking Mount Wilson. Red Rocks Canyon has amazing colors and plants, and we had the best view here when waking up in our tents, overlooking red mountains – that view made even the worst oatmeal amazing in the morning. Before leaving to Death Valley, we even drove through the Las Vegas Strip, which was honestly enough Las Vegas for a lifetime: too much unnecessary light (yes, I’m talking about that pyramid at Luxor; yes, its light could be seen even from our campground), and too much fake Paris and New York.
The next morning, we got into our beloved van, and drove to Death Valley through landscapes and towns I’ve only before seen in Westerns, but it was how I imagined it to be: here, you can drive for hours without encountering places where people live, nothing is in front of you, but the road, and you can get a sense of why people are so nostalgic about the idea of the West, why it is so important in American popular culture. Then, we entered Death Valley, which meant no phone service or internet for six days, but it also meant amazing views, campfires, a bunch of Boy Scouts, tasty chilis cooked in the evenings, countless group pictures, and so much more. We started with checking out the most famous sites of the park (after taking photos with the Death Valley sign of course): we saw Zabriskie Point, which inspired a – not too good, in my opinion – 70s movie; Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, 86m below sea level; Devil’s Golf Course; the amazing colors of Artist’s Palette; and a Natural Bridge. We hiked on sand dunes, which was, thinking back, one of the most memorable hikes and places in Death Valley, and we hiked in the beautiful Golden Canyon.
The part of the trip I was most excited and a tiny bit afraid about was the three days we spent backpacking, hiking the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon Loop. I would lie if I said it was an easy hike, and that I enjoyed every second of it, but even with aching muscles and some blood blisters, it was totally worth it. Everyone on the trip was supportive, we pushed each other through our lowest points, and eventually we summited, even though we were running out of cheese. During these three days, we encountered no people, but saw some totally different landscapes, as well as a tiny rattlesnake, the skull of a wild horse, and the corpse of a dead ram (we were in a desert called Death Valley for a reason, after all). By the end, we became masters in quickly putting up and taking down a tent, cooking on camping stoves, going on after only eating a tortilla for lunch, and going to bed at 8 pm, as we really had nothing else to do, besides looking at the stars.
After getting back to the “civilization” of our campsite at Furnace Creek, we even had the chance to finally shower after a week, and get into a pool, which was totally unnecessary in the middle of the desert. On our last day, we said goodbye to Death Valley with looking down on it from Dante’s View, the most amazing lookout point from where you can basically see the whole national park – when you don’t get blown off by the wind of course.
As we still had a whole afternoon left, the group decided that we want to check out Hoover Dam, a wonder made by humans, and not by nature, as a way to close our trip. Because of this, I can officially say that I had lunch in Arizona, as we ate out of our white buckets in the parking lot of the Dam’s Arizona side – we got some weird looks, I have to admit. The Hoover Dam was amazing, but of course, it couldn’t beat the sand dunes or Zabriskie Point in my heart.
As this sole week in Death Valley and Red Rocks felt like at least a month, it was a shock to come back to campus, and start classes a day later. I especially miss the weather (shorts and a t-shirt in January?), the disconnectedness, those meals we cooked, the conversations on and off the trail, and the unbelievable nature that surrounded us. Now, it’s back to classes, assignments, work, and lazy weekends – but I’m going to tell you all about that in my next post.
(Some of the pictures in this post are not mine, so some photo credits go to the coolest people I went on this trip with: Kyle, Devin, Emily, Giles, Sarah, Leigh, Elizabeth, Kevin, Jami, Milosz, Rachael. Also, thank you for the memories, guys.)