Stark Beauty in Death Valley

A national park’s challenge to reflect on a natural landscape that’s not traditionally beautiful elicited some inspiring reactions.

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Posted in , Sep 8, 2017

Stark beauty in Death Valley

The rangers at Death Valley National Park posted a somewhat startling photo to Facebook recently. It depicted a vast, craggy, brown landscape that lay flat against a cloudy sky that was pierced by some fiery sunlight. The caption quoted the author Edna Brush Perkins, who wrote, “How could rocks and sand and silence make us afraid and yet be so wonderful?”

The natural world has so much to show us, and the photo’s stark beauty reminded me to look for inspiration anywhere and everywhere—even and especially in places that might look ugly or frightening at first glance.

The rangers asked in the post, “What do you feel when you see this image?” The nearly 100 comments that followed reflect appreciation for the fearsome power of nature—Death Valley set a record for the hottest month on record this July, with an average temperature of 107.39 degrees. They also showed the inspiration that emerges when we take the time to look more closely at a unique natural place. Here are four comments that stood out to me:

“I have been there with some of the most important and closest people in my life, as well as alone. This photo reminds me of them, as well as the very self-healing solitude I have experienced so many times when traveling to the park by myself.” 

“I feel peace and tranquility; where time no longer has meaning. I feel the infinite possibility of all things, and then I become one with the universe.” 

“It looks helllish at first glance, to anyone who has not visited this place. But this view is narrow and shallow, much like a mind can be. If you search further, outside your comfort zone, outside your field of vision, you can see glorious mountains rising up from the valley, bathed in golden rays enlightening the beyond.” 

"I feel like there is a hard journey ahead but something beautiful awaits on the other side.”

Scientific research tells us that experiencing feelings of awe in the presence of nature has a positive impact on both our moods and our tendencies to act in a morally upright way. That goes for traditionally beautiful vistas like snow-capped mountains, towering redwoods or salt-sprayed seashores. But those feelings are also available to us in less expected places, like vast, empty deserts or mucky swamps. If you look closely enough, you will find what you are looking for.

Where can you find surprising natural beauty today?

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