When I vacation, I
vacate the political premises; I get as far "away from it all" as I
Once I flew to
Australia, took a catamaran to an island in the Great Barrier Reef,
put on my snorkel and dived.
Another time I flew to
Albuquerque, drove with a friend to the Carlsbad Caverns, and took
an elevator down into total darkness.
After the 2000
election, Chip Ford and I flew to Baja California, then drove in a
rented jeep to an isolated Mexican village. After the 2008 election,
I measured my globe to see how far I could get from Washington D.C.
in actual miles; but I'm getting too old for those long airplane
flights, so I started thinking about Death Valley, where it's less
humid than New Guinea. A lot less humid.
So there I was two
weeks ago, 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin on the edge of
the salt flats that were once a large lake. Talk about climate
change — which, as nearly as I could tell from the travel brochure,
happened before mankind started polluting the planet. The
temperature in mid-May was 104 degrees. There was no cellphone
service. Who knew that heaven is hot and dry?
At our cabin in the
Panamint Mountains in Death Valley National Park, it was higher, and
therefore cooler. Still no cell service, no telephone or television
in the room, still died-and-gone-to-heaven perfect.
The water for the hot
shower came from nearby Darwin Falls. Close enough to nature for me.
It did occur to me that hell could be the same place without a full
bath and a nice little restaurant. I'd still enjoy the dramatically
extreme scenery though.
I'd been wanting to
visit Death Valley since watching "Death Valley Days" on television
in the '50s; and I remember Ronald Reagan hosting it later for a
short time. When my son moved to Nevada I figured it was my time to
visit the land of "20 Mule Team Borax," but didn't realize the
distances involved in western travel. This year, with the 9-year-old
twins also eager to go there, he and his wife planned a trip for the
five of us.
Getting far away from it all.
Dante's View, Death Valley, Nevada
Background Music: Theme from The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly,
It was a seven-hour
drive each way. I had my Ennio Morricone spaghetti western themes
wailing on the truck's CD player.
When I'd been planning
the trip I'd been torn between wanting to see the desert in bloom
with wild flowers — which I'd read happens in late winter if there's
been enough rain — and visiting after the wildflower-seeking
tourists left. Finally decided I'd prefer to experience the
desolation away-from-it-all thing. I was told we had to go by
mid-May in order not to experience the too-hot-to-bear thing. We
arrived there on May 15.
It had rained the week
before. Surprise wildflowers covered the Mojave Desert, the
Panamints, and Death Valley itself — purplemat, white pricklepoppy,
orange globemallow, blue Mohave aster, red desert paintbrush, pink
Desert Five-spot, the tall yellow Prince's Plume, and small Desert
As a child I'd seen
Disney's "The Painted Desert" and had always wanted to experience
the blooming cactus. This was the year for that too, with prickly
pear and beaver cactus flowering along with the oleander bush
outside our cabin.
Another goal was to
visit the place where one can see both the lowest point in the
Western Hemisphere, Badwater, and the highest mountain in the lower
48, Mt. Whitney, 76 miles away. This required a hot scramble up and
down a narrow dirt path to Dante's View, where the ancient salty
pool was clearly visible far below, but Mt. Whitney required a
squinting imagination to place it in the western haze behind other
mountains. Close enough.
The rest of my family
vacation took place in northern Nevada, where it was snowing in the
mountains (more climate change). I started easing back into politics
when I saw a sign on a house in a working-class neighborhood: "Still
glad you voted for Obama?" and another that said, "Vote for anyone
but Harry Reid." Not many signs, though, considering there's a June
8 primary election.
A few signs favored
some of the nine Republicans who are competing to run against Senate
Majority Leader Reid if he survives his own primary, which he
probably will as two opponents split the Democratic anti-Reid vote.
I'd bet he'll lose in November, though.
I sent a contribution
last year to Sharon Angle, with whom I shared a forum at a National
Taxpayers Union meeting.
She is backed by the
Tea Party and is moving up against the other Republican woman, Sue
Lowden, "who has stumbled after suggesting that patients should
barter for health care with chickens," according to an article in
the Nevada Appeal.
As I left the state, a
headline told us a judge has ordered that no chicken costumes be
allowed in the polling places.
I'd still be laughing,
but got home to learn that Scott Brown has been working on financial
legislation with Barney "Nothing Wrong with Fannie Mae" Frank.
How long can it take to
fly to New Guinea, anyhow?