Awe inspiring factor: 10/10
Slightly scary score: 8.5/10
Heat score: 9/10 (88 degrees Fahrenheit / 32 Celsius, in March!)
Vintage factor: 9/10
Crabbitt Credits: 10/10
Golly, golly, golly me. Death Valley.
Not being a landscapes kind of person (I’m more an old buildings, bit of history kind of person) I hadn’t given much thought to our journey through Death Valley, and as a result it blew me away like many unexpected things do.
...and once you pass the road sign instructing you to turn off your air-con so as not to overheat your car and to make sure you have plenty of water with you, and generally to try not to die from being somewhere human beings really shouldn’t be, I think I can add ‘scary’ to the list of adjectives too.
...and for those who have ever wondered what it might be like to meet your maker: go to Death Valley, find a spot, get out of your car and stand in slience, alone. 'Spiritual' is not a word I often use but I certainly felt tiny, got chills and it seemed like I wasn't alone!!
So, I think part of the reason I was so blown away was due to the context in which we saw Death Valley: just on the edge is a 'ghost town' called Rhyolite. We went there before we entered Death Valley proper. Yes there is a tiny bit more vegetation because it’s on the edge (and I mean tiny bit –the odd scrappy, twiggy bush) but, woah, this is still in the middle of nowhere!
These people dragged their belongings and families in uncomfortable wooden carts half way across a continent (and half way across the world probably) to set up home in the middle of nowhere (think Mars and you’ll be close). No water, no shade, no provisons. Boy-o-boy it must have been harsh.
Of those who headed west during the gold rush, some died in their pursuit of this goal. Some who survived their journeys had been forced to do horrible, unthinkable things to get through. Tough people, tough times.
...and that context is why Death Valley was so arresting!
Amazingly Rhyolite prospered and by 1907 had a population of at least 3000. It enjoyed electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. -That’s what gold can do!
But it declined as quickly as it emerged and by 1910, after the local mine began to produce less revenue, people began to leave.
What was left for Crabbitt to see?
First stop: derelict remains of worker's cottage (?). The bases from tin cans nailed to the roof were intruiging. From peering underneath it seems they covered the knot-holes in the wood. So, I'm guessing, helped prevent rain (ha!) and drafts. Neat.
Next stop: a shack a few feet from the house. What is it? Your guess is as good as mine!
Next: bottle house -an example of a property restored at various times throughout its life but most recently in 2005. Built in 1905 by a 76 year old man, made from disgarded bottles from the saloons in the town (mainly old Adolphous Busch -Budweiser- bottles). It was raffled off to locals for 5 dollars a ticket and won by the Bennett family who lived there for 10 years!
Next: Cook Bank building. Erected Jan 1908. It had electric lights, steam heating and a marble floor.
Next: Rhyolite train station. Finished in 1908 to the same plan as the train station in Las Vegas. No longer in use by 1917, the rails were pulled up for their iron in the First World War. It was used as a boarding house for miners in the 1930's and later became a tourist attraction as the 'Rhylotie Ghost Casino' and after that a gift shop.
Finally, a Union Pacific raiload coach. Apparently it was used as a gas station! No, I don't get that either!
Then there was our favourite: the curious, old, life-ephemera which were scattered about the place along the way..
So that's Rhyolite
and if that wasn't all other-worldly enough, and in case you weren't freaked out by the surroundings and the feeling that you really had met your maker on a mountain side in America...
...then to seal the deal:
next to the empty properties, the landscape and the atmosphere,
right amongst all this, the Belgian artist Albert Szukalski has chosen to erect a sculpture of 'The Last Supper' -no less- from ghostly, life-size, fabric draped figures in full size evocative glory.
So, like I say, if you want to get spritual, meet the Big Man, Death Valley is a good place to start!
...plus, weirdly, he's also done another one of a bloke with a bike!
That's Death Valley covered from the 2015 Crabbitt Odyssey, Las Vegas we did last time.
Next time we'll tell you what we made of Los Angeles (and as usual, you can be sure we'll throw in the vintage perspective wherever we can!).