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PAGE 3

Death Valley
by [?]

Then I saw some large bats with white heads flitting around in zigzag flights–assuredly new and strange creatures to me.

I had come up there to this high ridge to take advantage of the bleak lonely spot commanding a view of valley and mountains. Before I could compose myself to watch the valley I made the discovery that near me were six low gravelly mounds. Graves! One had two stones at head and foot. Another had no mark at all. The one nearest me had for the head a flat piece of board, with lettering so effaced by weather that I could not decipher the inscription. The bones of a horse lay littered about between the graves. What a lonely place for graves! Death Valley seemed to be one vast sepulchre. What had been the lives and deaths of these people buried here? Lonely, melancholy, nameless graves upon the windy desert slope!

By this time the long shadows had begun to fall. Sunset over Death Valley! A golden flare burned over the Panamints–long tapering notched mountains with all their rugged conformation showing. Above floated gold and gray and silver-edged clouds–below shone a whorl of dusky, ruddy bronze haze, gradually thickening. Dim veils of heat still rose from the pale desert valley. As I watched all before me seemed to change and be shrouded in purple. How bold and desolate a scene! What vast scale and tremendous dimension! The clouds paled, turned rosy for a moment with the afterglow, then deepened into purple gloom. A sombre smoky sunset, as if this Death Valley was the gateway of hell, and its sinister shades were upflung from fire.

The desert day was done and now the desert twilight descended. Twilight of hazy purple fell over the valley of shadows. The black bold lines of mountains ran across the sky and down into the valley and up on the other side. A buzzard sailed low in the foreground–fitting emblem of life in all that wilderness of suggested death. This fleeting hour was tranquil and sad. What little had it to do with the destiny of man! Death Valley was only a ragged rent of the old earth, from which men in their folly and passion, had sought to dig forth golden treasure. The air held a solemn stillness. Peace! How it rested my troubled soul! I felt that I was myself here, far different from my habitual self. Why had I longed to see Death Valley? What did I want of the desert that was naked, red, sinister, sombre, forbidding, ghastly, stark, dim and dark and dismal, the abode of silence and loneliness, the proof of death, decay, devastation and destruction, the majestic sublimity of desolation? The answer was that I sought the awful, the appalling and terrible because they harked me back to a primitive day where my blood and bones were bequeathed their heritage of the elements. That was the secret of the eternal fascination the desert exerted upon all men. It carried them back. It inhibited thought. It brought up the age-old sensations, so that I could feel, though I did not know it then, once again the all-satisfying state of the savage in nature.

When I returned to camp night had fallen. The evening star stood high in the pale sky, all alone and difficult to see, yet the more beautiful for that. The night appeared to be warmer or perhaps it was because no wind blew. Nielsen got supper, and ate most of it, for I was not hungry. As I sat by the camp-fire a flock of little bats, the smallest I had ever seen, darted from the wood-pile nearby and flew right in my face. They had no fear of man or fire. Their wings made a soft swishing sound. Later I heard the trill of frogs, which was the last sound I might have expected to hear in Death Valley. A sweet high-pitched melodious trill it reminded me of the music made by frogs in the Tamaulipas Jungle of Mexico. Every time I awakened that night, and it was often, I heard this trill. Once, too, sometime late, my listening ear caught faint mournful notes of a killdeer. How strange, and still sweeter than the trill! What a touch to the infinite silence and loneliness! A killdeer–bird of the swamps and marshes–what could he be doing in arid and barren Death Valley? Nature is mysterious and inscrutable.