The Valley of Fire

Sunset over the Valley of Fire

On Saturday morning, and all throughout the night, the finest breeze was blowing. It whipped at the tent and blew through the blood-red caverns all around us. The Valley of Fire was the first place I wanted to be naked. The evening before, I took off all my clothes and wandered around the campsite, feeling the breeze on my body, which until then I had been perfectly happy to ignore. The lonely sound of the wind was both comforting and unnerving. Both nights, I suffered from the same terrible dream. I came upon a village. The houses were built of white clapboards and the lawns were manicured and neat. But everywhere, the town was quiet. Deserted. When I entered into the first house, I found the body of its occupant, sprawled upon the floor in a pool of his own blood. All around him, the room was neat, the bed made. In another room of the same house, I found a woman. All throughout the town, the inhabitants were dead, murdered in the most brutal ways: men, women and children. Then, I was fleeing the town and murderers were chasing me. A man, hideous, his face nearly melted off was chasing me, seeking to kill me. Or was the murderer me?

Both nights, the same dream. Then, I learned of the Anasazi: the mysterious people who had walked through the Valley of Fire tens of thousands of years before. That tribe that had disappeared without a trace. There are spirits there in the valley. If you sit still, you can hear them wandering lonely in the wind. They have recorded their presence in the petraglyphs on the rock faces. Some have tried to decipher the designs. It is shocking how high upon the cliff faces some of the writing is. Were they made before rains and rivers cut the gorges into the hills? How did they get up there? I imagined them all gathering for their own peculiar ceremonies. Maybe they built fires in the caverns and congregated upon the harsh plains. Did they dance about those fires, praying for rain and food? Tim and I walked the path to Mouse’s Tank. It was getting late in the day. The path winds through the rocks and sand, then comes to a rock face. To the right of the rock is a path that can be easily scaled. It leads to a hole in the rocks, and looking down, one can see the shining pool where Mouse lived unheeded while he was being pursued. At one point, I wandered up another accessible path to the left of the rock and ended up on a shelf overlooking a large chasm. I had expected to see more water there, but all I saw were cottonwood trees and scrub. I followed the path around the left of the chasm, but then, I got frightened because I could no longer hear any voices near Mouse’s Tank below. I thought of being lost and nothing scares me more. I felt like I was alone, but like I was being watched. I followed the footprints I had left along the path, which from where I was was not as easily discernible as it had been before. For a moment, I could feel my heart beating in my chest. But soon enough, I had reached the path again, though Tim was nowhere to be found. He had gone back down the path, thinking I had already left.

After we left the Valley of Fire, our journey took us north to Overton. Between Overton and Caliente is a hot springs called Ash Springs. It is laid out in four sections of green-blue warm water. Nowhere is the spring deeper than two and a half feet. The water emerges from an underground spring into the top pool and waterfalls down into a second, larger pool Another adjoining pool flows under trees making it look Amazonian and a final pool hosts thousands of tiny fish that the children scoop up in cups or bottles. When I was there, Hispanic families filled the pools, splashing and laughing. One woman who sat at the hot spring’s mouth told raucous stories in Spanish to the delight of her friends: housewives and mothers. I loved listening to her musical voice even though I could not understand what she was saying. Several times Tim heard her say “puta” and we knew she was talking about a woman she did not admire. Everyone seemed amused by the fact that I was the palest person in the entire spring. Some of the friendly ladies offered me some chicken and rice with macaroni salad. The chicken was very tender and “Herbert” who lives in Las Vegas told us how he had marinated it in lemon for many hours. His nine year old daughter was named Heather, just like me. We bedded down in Caliente, at the Shady Motel, which was not particularly shady: not at least where trees were concerned. I found out that there was a steam train in nearby Ely from the couple that ran the laundromat (which they pronounced “laundrymat”). In Caliente, there is a train depot for the Union Pacific Railroad, but the passenger trains ceased in 1997. Now the building houses the city government offices. There is a store there called “Necessary Things” just like in the Stephen King novel. He traveled the area extensively for research. His evidence can be found in the most unlkely of places: the name of the store, the descriptions of the loneliest road in America, the sidewalk in front of the Ely casinos. The cities in central Nevada scream Desperation. In fact, to lonely is the loneliest road in America that if you actually drive down the entire length of it and stop at the only five towns along the road for a stamp, the federal government will send you a certificate saying that you survived the loneliest road in America. In fact, the Ely steam train travels part of the loneliest road. Everywhere are abandoned mines and caves, evidence of the area’s past history of gold, silver and copper mining. I did not travel all of the loneliest road. From Caliente and Ely, my path took me into Utah, along other lonely roads.

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~ by ImaginaryCanary on October 4, 2011.

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