Deserts are about getting rid of what you don’t need – you travel through them and leave behind whatever isn’t absolutely necessary. They whittle you down to your bare essentials, and leave you a better, if more battered, person afterwards.
Let me tell you that a long weekend in Death Valley is neither so romantic nor so transformative. It was lovely and I learned a lot about the different types of deserts, but I also learned that all those rocks and so very little vegetation gets me a bit down.
The desert, the National Park Service would like you to know, isn’t desolate. There are lots of forms of life there, and they are just as deserving of protecting as more verdant areas, like jungles or forests. This is true. But it just seems so damn barren. It was a beautiful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Am I a better person for having gone to the desert? I believe that travel always widens your perspective on the world, both in terms of what’s possible to do and what’s out there. But it’s not like we were roughing it. The National Park has a lodge, and we stayed there. It was lovely.
There’s nothing like seeing the barrenness to understand why those literary metaphors of sloughing away what’s not important exist in the first place. You can’t have anything that isn’t necessary if you’re going to survive there. The land can’t support it.
I would absolutely recommend a visit, though. The land is striking, you can channel your inner geologist, and maybe even pretend that you’re Gertrude Bell or Lawrence of Arabia.