We concluded our recent trip out west in Santa Monica, California. It was there my niece greeted the Pacific Ocean for the first time, her footsteps leaving the sandy shore and disappearing into the waves that reached forth and caressed her feet. 

Unbeknownst to me, this is where Route 66 ended as well. That blessed road which led us through Sedona – it ended here. 

We read the tsunami warning signs on the pier, unaware that the strongest earthquake to strike California in two decades would occur a month after we returned home. 

The earthquakes occurred near Ridgecrest, approximately seventy miles south of our exit from Death Valley National Park through Panamint Springs and about eighty miles south of Lone Pine, where we spent the night at a Best Western.

I watched videos of the quakes shaking stores, homes and swimming pools and I am ever grateful we were back in Texas when they struck.

I was also unsurprised when the feels-like temperatures here rivaled the actual temperatures in Death Valley. The hottest temperature recorded by our vehicle there was 107 degrees. My phone even refused to take any photos with flash, stating that it was simply too hot. I turned it off and held it up to the AC in a panic, although I immediately wished I’d gotten a screenshot of the message first.

We stopped at Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level and the lowest point in North America. For reference, Baytown is approximately 34 feet above sea level, per the city’s webpage at

I had never truly understood the Biblical meaning of the word valley until I saw Death Valley. It is desolate and barren. There is no potable water, scant if any shade and no resources of any kind. In a symbolic sense, one would be totally dependent upon God in such a place. There would be no other choice, and maybe that is why he sometimes takes us there.

However, there was beauty hidden in the clefts of those rocks. We drove down Artists Drive and saw the Artists Palette, which are hills awash with color. The drive seemed otherworldly and my husband said he felt as if we were on Tatooine, a planet from the “Star Wars” movies. I later read that scenes from “Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope” and “Star Wars Episode VI - Return of the Jedi” were indeed filmed in Death Valley, some on Artists Drive. 

One day I hope to return to see the sand dunes and many other sights we did not have a chance to see.

In memory of our time there, I bought the James Avery Enamel Sunny Days charm and had this engraved on the back: “DVNP / 107°”.

We traveled from a desert of desolation to an ocean of everlasting waves. May we all do the same in our lives, and perhaps even on a road trip across the American West.

Stacy Parent is a lifelong resident of Baytown.

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