When I visited Death Valley back in 2010, I was overwhelmed by the the loneliness of such a desolate place but was intrigued by the lives of those who had lived there and had since moved on. That trip provided the basis for my Common Application essay for college and gave me a new perspective on the world and travel. I hope these words inspire you to look at the world in a different way, too.
The world flew past as I drove through the lush Central Valley, populated with shoots just poking out of the soil. The farmlands turned to cities as I skirted around Los Angeles, the terrain quickly transitioning into calico patterned hills. Then, the world turned to rock as civilization ceased to exist. I drove across the desert, the empty red plains in stark contrast with the midday sky.
John Steinbeck wrote of the lonely salt flats of Utah, the eerie South Dakota Badlands transformed into golden hills by the setting sun, and the stone mesas of Arizona. I had just gotten my license, and I wanted to drive. I wanted to travel with no schedule, no mandatory timeframe, and no hotel reservations; just me and the open road.
After a day of intense driving, I pulled over to stretch my legs, cutting the engine. I held my breath, and silence enveloped me. There was an absence of sound, a hole where it should have been, an eerie discomfort that settled in my stomach. Rhyolite, a ghost town on the edge of Death Valley, was the former home of fifty saloons and a bustling mining business. I walked down the main street, nestled in the foothills as an endless valley stretched out behind me. Only four shells of buildings remained, each one a shadow of its former self. I closed my eyes and imagined the wagons rolling by, the thousands of people each living their own lives. Then the rhyolite ore ran out and the townspeople trickled away. I opened my eyes, causing the vision to vanish. The town had risen and fallen. It had run its course. And at that moment, I realized that someday, the rest of the world will follow in Rhyolite’s footsteps. I hopped in the car, the roar of the engine slicing through the silence like a knife, empowering me with the motivation to continue on my journey.
I’m glad I hadn’t waited any longer to take my trip. I saw the story of Rhyolite repeated everywhere I drove. At Arches National Park, I heard of Wall Arch, a massive structure of rock spanning eighty feet. An incredible permanent formation that had fallen down overnight, completely unexpectedly. I never saw Wall Arch. I know nature must have worn it down and that it would collapse eventually, but the gaping hole in my heart made me realize that that the Earth is not permanent. It will inevitably change and become unrecognizable to those who know it today. My trip helped me experience the world as it is now by teaching me that it is always incredible, but never in the same way twice. The world as I know it will end, and another world will take its place as mountains erode and civilizations collapse and rebuild. I realized that I had to see the planet as it is now but accept that it will change in even more unbelievable ways. And I’m okay with that.