A Jewel in the DesertIf you're fed up with hiking reports on SummitPost, you'd better run; this is not only about hiking but also involves no summits at all!
Of things one would not expect to see in Death Valley National Park, a lush oasis would be at or near the top of the list. And Saratoga Spring is exactly that-- a lush oasis amid one of the most parched landscapes in the world. No mere pool or salty trickle, it is a large pond or small lake surrounded by marshy terrain. Just a stone's throw away are the rock and sand of the desert, but the microcosm that is Saratoga Spring teems with life, including rare species and animals that one normally associates with wetlands. The second time I was there, it was with stunned wonder that I watched a great egret lift from the waters and fly out across the desert. Saratoga Spring is also one of the few places in Death Valley that one can be pestered by biting insects.
People headed to Saratoga Spring from the Furnace Creek area face a long drive, much of it unpaved (but passable to regular vehicles), and with an occasionally flooded crossing of the Amargosa "River." The approach is much shorter from the southeast, but that area is more remote and visited by far fewer people.
Saratoga Spring is a special place to me. I nearly cried there once, not because I was hurt but because I was afraid I might never see it again, or at least not for a very long time, as in decades.
In March of 1997, I made my first visit there. The previous year, my brother Chris and I, while visiting Death Valley for the first time, spotted something about it in a guidebook or on a map and vowed to check it out the next time. The next year, Chris, my two other brothers, and I went.
The next visit was later that year with my wife, in December. After that, it wasn't until 2003, in April, that I got back, again with my wife. And it was then that I was close to tears, for the prospect of children was then on the horizon and I feared that the life associated with that might interfere with the time and the money necessary for me to find myself and inspiration in places such as Saratoga Spring and Death Valley.
Later, in a photo album, I wrote this as a caption for a picture I took of the Ibex Dunes, very close to Saratoga Spring, as the sun set:
It was with heavy heart and nearness to soft tears that I turned from here at sunset to go back to the car and return to Las Vegas. My previous two visits occurred early in a trip, not at the end. Perhaps it was the sounds of the birds, content in their desert Eden. Or perhaps it was the sadness accompanying the knowledge that I may never be here again.
Goodnight and goodbye to Death Valley National Park.
I know, I know-- sappy and melodramatic.
Fortunately, I have been back to Death Valley a few times since kids began arriving in 2004, but it wasn't until this past April that I got back to Saratoga Spring. And it was as lovely as it ever was.
Go. Just walk around. Go.