The approach to Death Valley from the south was a motoring challenge in itself
Unpaved roads and windblown sands tinkled and teased my rental car’s frame
In the neighbouring Searles Valley my attention was grabbed by some painted rocks
Just another piece of Cali desert graffiti to entertain the travellers
Or so some might have thought.
I rounded the corner, braked and pulled onto the sloping gravel shoulder
Blast furnace heat sucked the air from my lungs, made me gasp
The side of the hill on my right was green and crumbled to the touch
Just another colour in this spilt pallet of a painter’s landscape dream
Or a geologist’s psychedelic field trip.
Beyond the bend in a dried out wash a roadside memorial caught my eye
Superhero figures and a cross of axes amongst beer cans to quench the thirst
Captain Travis Flores-Lee had come to California from Hawaii in 2001
Just another firefighter whose life ended too soon to be remembered
Or so he may have thought.
Later in an overpriced Las Vegas motel I found his story on Google
His car had left the road on his way to work at the Searles Valley Mineral Fire Department
His colleagues must cross themselves in remembrance every time they pass the spot
Just another tragedy in this Dante’s inferno of a lunatic landscape
Or a statistic on a road sign.
Antonioni directed his cult classic which divides opinion to this day
Love or hate it there’s no doubt he left his mark somewhere along the movie time line
The painted plane, the love scene, the exploding house finale
Just another contribution to the existential road movies of late sixties counter culture
Or a work of genius to some.
At Zabriskie Point a couple from Iceland took a picture of me and the view
Perhaps it was sacrilege to take those photographs of Dolores-Lee’s shrine
As the old Navajo woman had shaken her head and frowned at me for asking
Just another tourist buying her trinkets but not allowed to remove her soul
Or perhaps for a few dollars more.
There’s only ever been one thing on my bucket list of things to do before I die
And yes, I have seen the movie several times and own a copy of the soundtrack
I even played it on the way into Death Valley to put me in the mood
Just another of the weird and wonderful things that demand my attention
Or not as the case may be when it wanders.
My mind turns once more to the unfortunate case of Dolores-Lee
I wonder how he would have felt knowing he’d become part of the valley folklore
My bucket list is empty now like his firefighting superhero dreams
Just another reason to turn off the air-con to prevent overheating
Or play the soundtrack one more time.