Hidden by the hyperbole, there is real danger here.

July 30th, 2013, 5pm

It was 18.3°C with few clouds. The breeze was brisk.

Death Valley. Devil’s Cornfield. Cow skulls and desolate expanses and a real stagecoach parked outside the General Store at Stovepipe Wells.

Slipping down the long, oily snake of a road between dunes and scrub in an air-conditioned Jeep, spaghetti western soundtracks playing, it’s easy to believe you’re in a giant theme park here. The nomenclature adds to the effect. The spare landscape and the whacked-out scale cause optical illusions, and the punishing heat slows your brain and body down, heightening the surreal nature of your surroundings.

It doesn’t feel real, so it doesn’t feel dangerous. Until you’re a mile out on the cracked, salty tundra. Without water and with your cowboy hat just-purchased from the gift shop barely offering resistance from the sun. The safe cocoon of your jeep a pinprick in the distance, though no landmarks ever shifted shape on the way out.

Until you realize the only way this land has been tamed by man is in naming it, and that those names are not just for show, perhaps they’re not even bravado. The landscape is as harsh and unforgiving as the names suggest.

NB: Parts of this moment are fictional (I would never buy a cowboy hat from a gift shop).

Spyridon, David Wade, Laura, Paul and 1 more said thanks.

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Jane Francis

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