This may come as a surprise to you, but one time, I was stuck in traffic in the Los Angeles basin. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and I was trying to head up to Yosemite. As I marinated in the exhaust byproducts of too many cars, I stared grimly at the immobile bumper in front of me. It was festooned with stickers, but the one that caught my eye was one that said, Make your own myth. After staring at the letters for a while, something clicked it my head, and I made my own stories and myths as I waited, which made the next four hours at least palatable. While the phrase is applicable to day-to-day life, the area that it’s most applicable to is Death Valley. This is a region with an amazing geologic history, and a rich cultural history. From charcoal kilns, mines, tall mountains, volcanic craters, sand dunes, a castle, and more, this is an area that has its own myths, and calls out for its visitors to come up with their own stories, myths, and adventures.
This idea goes against the concept of the desert as a sterile wasteland, but if you’ve been paying attention to any of my entries, you know that Death Valley – and any desert is anything but that. Any desert is full of silence and wilderness, but they are never a sterile wasteland. (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2010/5/14/the-general-wastelands-are-not-lightly-traveledstories-and-t.html). In terms of making your own myth and Death Valley, the place where it is the most applicable is the hidden saline pools of the Devil’s Golf Course. The Devil’s Golf Course is part of the dry lakebed of ancient Lake Manly, and now, an area with intricate salt crystal growth. These crystals have grown into an extensive – and hard network of structures.
In 2005, I was out examining some of the crystal formations and wandering aimlessly about the Devil’s Golf Course when I saw a break in the pure white crystal growths. At that moment, I was convinced I was dreaming, because what I saw looked like a pool of water. I looked away, and gently shook my head, convinced that when I looked back, the pool would be gone. But, when I looked back, there it was again, roughly six feet wide by eight feet deep. Now, this was an early morning in November – it wasn’t hot, and there weren’t shivering rippling lines of heat rising from the ground. Nevertheless, I was convinced that it was a mirage. I mildly pinched my arm as I kept walking to it, because it had to be an illusion of some sort. Then, I was next to it, and there it was, a wide pool that was at least ten feet deep, of clear, almost pure green water. I didn’t believe it. I was out on the hardpan, one of the driest, hottest places on Earth, where in the summer, triple digit heat regularly falls upon the terrain in sky-dropping scorching fashion; and yet, here was this large pool of water, obviously connected to an ancient past; and an underground river. Simply put, there was water – lots of water where none should be. And if that isn’t something out of a myth to you, I don’t know what a myth is.
I sat there for a while; touched the water, considered diving in (which I ruled out due to a number of factors, including personal safety and salt content), and marveled at it. At that time, the thing the pool reminded me the most of was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. In one of the later chapters, the travelers find an island with a mysterious clear pool of water, which turns things to gold. Sadly – or happily, the pool in Death Valley does not have such mystic properties; but there could be many myths made about it. In 2010, when I was back in Death Valley, I went back to the Devil’s Golf Course to see if the pool was still there; because even though I had photographic proof that it existed, I doubted my memories that it had been really there. I spent a long time wandering around the area that I thought it was in; and was just about to give up, writing the pool off as a myth, when I found it again. It was slightly smaller, but it was the same pool. In February of this year, I stopped by to see again, if it indeed still existed, and sure enough, it was still there, albeit a lot smaller.
As an amateur geologist, my theory is that the surrounding salt crystals are slowly forming over the pool, but as to how the pools form, I’m at a loss. (If there’s an actual geologist out there reading my blog, or if anyone knows the answer, write in!). But again, here’s where myths come into play – except these are facts. According to Steve Hall, general Death Valley expert, the National Park Service is aware of these holes that form, and back in the day, as a tourist attraction used to physically blast the holes open with dynamite. Now, I can’t find any confirmation of that, but I’m very inclined to believe Steve, especially as he has a photograph at the bottom of his entry (it is the very last photo): http://www.panamintcity.com/basin/devilsgolfcourse.html. Again, if that’s not making your own myth, I don’t know what is. Obviously, the National Park Service won’t do that today (much like the Yosemite firefall), but that is another interesting bit of history about the pools.
Directions: The Devil’s Golf Course is seventeen miles South of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road. From the road, it is 1.3 miles to the parking area on a graded gravel road. As for finding the pool(s), my attitude about such rare things is that everyone should have their own adventure, and in some cases, the adventure is finding the location. (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2011/12/30/the-blue-sun-cave.html). What I will say, however, is that you if you head roughly East-South-East from the parking area, you should find it, although it is well concealed in the crystal fields, especially as it is getting smaller. And if you do find it, make your own myth.
Tips: Sorry, I used all my myths and magic up above giving you one big tip!
More Information: http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/usgsnps/deva/ftdev1.html, http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/upload/DEVAmap1a.pdf, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil's_Golf_Course#Access, http://www.panamintcity.com/basin/devilsgolfcourse.html