My cousin Barb and her husband Jim were kind enough to bring me along on their trip to Death Valley National Park. I was a first-time visitor, but they were old pros. They would show me the ropes. They would make sure I saw lots of Neate Stuffe. They promised to take me on something called a “death march.” I was really stoked.
It was January, the weather was mild, and we were having a great time. There is so much to see and do in this incredible park. I had a list to work through. Borax museum – check. Golden Canyon hike -- check. Badwater visit -- check. Artist’s Palette – check. Sunset at Zabriskie Point, dinner at Furnace Creek Inn, starlite stroll – check, check, check.
The day before, we had visited the Harmony Borax Works (check), Ubehebe Crater (check), and Scotty’s Castle (check). At the latter place, a real highlight of my DEVA visit, we had taken both the upstairs tour and the basement tour. Double check.
In the course of enjoying a picnic lunch in the little picnic area next to the parking lot at Scotty's Castle we had met a busload of really nice people. I was happy we didn’t have to compete with that busload for tour tickets. I was sad we couldn’t partake of the sumptuous box lunches they spread out on the table and devoured before our covetous eyes. Wouldn’t it be nice if they shared?
Now it was morning at Furnace Creek Ranch and the three of us had just eaten breakfast and were making our way back to our motel rooms. It was raining, by golly, and I couldn’t have been happier if I had won the lottery. Now I was going to be able to tell my friends back in South Carolina that I managed to get rained on in the driest place in the coterminous 48 states. Score!
We made our way to the 900 building, where I had a decent room facing the golf course. The weather was pleasant, so at night you could leave the sliding glass door open a crack for fresh air. You got coyote music for a bonus.
As we neared the building we became aware of an unusual hustle and bustle. Whoa! What was that ambulance doing there by the door? Where did all those patrol cars come from? Why were those little knots of nervous-looking people gathered here and there? Was the damn place on fire?!
No smoke, no sirens, no fire trucks. Nope; not a fire.
Full of questions, I advanced on the nearest of the many rangers on the scene. Seeing me, he abruptly threw up both hands and warded me off. He was wearing a concerned look and a pair of latex gloves. He warned me not to come near him. He said he didn’t yet know what the hell was going on. This did not look good.
I noticed some things and I heard some things. My anxiety eased as the crux of the matter unveiled itself in a cascade of new information.
I noticed that the tour bus we had seen at Scotty’s Castle was idling in the parking lot. I noticed that those little knots of whispering folks were people from the bus. I heard that some of the bus people had overnighted in our motel unit. I heard that four of them needed medical attention.
I listened in on the chatter swirling from the little knots of bus people. I caught only a few words, but that was enough. Yadada, yadada, yadada, FOOD POISONING. Yadada, yadada, yadada, BOX LUNCHES.
Be careful what you wish for.