“Stubborn people get themselves in a lot of trouble, but they also get things done.” – Anna Paquin
“Wait a minute,” you’re probably thinking, “why is this post starting out with a quote completely unrelated to travel, and from a movie star, no less?”
That’s because travel isn’t an isolated subject; for those of us who travel on a regular basis, it touches on just about every aspect of our lives. It touches on who we are. That includes–in this case–one of my best/ worst personality traits and something I’ve seen the world over: stubbornness.
But first, lets talk about borax. In 1874, large deposits of the mineral were found in the inhospitable wastelands of Death Valley. Over the next few decades, borax miners braved the scorching heat to harvest the deposits found throughout the area. For a span of years, the soon-to-be iconic 20-mule teams hauled the stuff out of the desert to railroads connecting the area to the outside world. It was brutal work, but they did it. Why?
Other than the obvious reason–money–it boils down to one thing: those folks were stubborn. Stubborn enough to mine and haul 16-foot long wagons loaded with borax, weighing in at 10 tons each. From 1883 to 1889, over 10,000 tons of borax was hauled out of Death Valley alone, and not once did a mule die or wagon break down along the way. How much did those drivers (muleskinners) make? $100-120 a month. Granted, that was a lot back then, but those muleskinners had to have been as tough as nails and as stubborn as the mules they drove.
They were as stubborn as the persistent lifeforms clinging to existence throughout the Valley–even in the alkaline flats of Badwater Basin. Somehow, micro-organisms flourish in an environment hostile to most other forms of life.
For over a century now, the 20-mule teams have been absent from Death Valley. Established as a National Monument in 1933, it is now the largest National Park in the lower 48 states. Visitors pile out of air-conditioned cars to marvel at the unforgiving, alien landscape before retreating to their chilled sanctuaries.
It was only March when we visited, but the temperatures still broke 100° Fahrenheit; the merciless sun reflected off the salt-crusted ground, making the surface of the Valley shimmer and ripple like that of a lake. Distance was difficult to gauge as we walked across the slippery terrain. Before long, we turned and trudged back to the car. It was far too hot for these PNW boys.
We drove from spot to spot within the Park, taking in the extra-terrestrial landscapes around us. Painted hills and creased ridges shaped by blasts of wind and torrents of water made it seem like we were on a distant planet, but could also have been due to the fact that Death Valley has been featured in numerous sci-fi features over the years.
Getting our road trip in order had been a product of collective stubbornness. We planned, replanned, and replanned our replans, doggedly researching and tweaking until things lined up the way we wanted. And, somehow, they did. Somehow, the logistically ridiculous trip had come together, and we were already several weeks in. The next stop? Las Vegas.
Brandon and I drove up out of the Valley, windows down and feel-good tunes filling the cabin of our hatchback. We never saw the state line. By dusk, we were in Nevada.
I’ve been stubborn since I was a kid and, like the quote at the start of this post mentions, have gotten in a fair bit of trouble because of it. And yet, my stubbornness has also been the reason I’ve been able to see some of the places I’ve visited. Some of my favorite trips have been the ones I’ve had to work the hardest to make happen. And I wouldn’t give those memories up for anything.
That said, I’m glad we visited Death Valley with an air-conditioned car–not with a 20-mule team!
How about you? What’s a personality trait of yours which helps/ hinders your traveling? Would you change that about yourself, if you could? Let me know in the comments below!