“Is this it?” Lina asked as they entered the valley, mantled by an inky starless night. She pressed her forehead against the window glass, her head angled towards the asphalt.
“Do you see anything?” Cora asked cautiously.
“It’s called a ‘super bloom,’ right? I thought they would be...I don’t know...bigger? People have been flying in from all over the world...for these tiny flowers!?” Lina remarked, her exhaustion swiftly unwrapping her sheath of optimism.
Gripping the steering wheel with her slender fingers, Cora’s cheeks flushed. She squinted past the smudges on her glasses, trying to focus the blur of her peripheral vision to determine the degree of Lina’s exaggeration. Her friend had a propensity for dramatization. Cora held to the mesmerizing images she had read over the past few weeks. Shimmering carpets of gold. Cascades of color.
“Yeah...I think so? Or maybe we’re not in the right place? Maybe we need to be on the other side of the park? We should wait until we can see in the morning,” Cora offered firmly, teetering on the edge of hopefulness. Steaming white freckles, gravel ghosts, emanated from the blades of grass lining the shoulder of the deserted highway. Could those be them? she thought to herself. It was too dark and too fast to tell.
Like thousands of others, they had succumbed to the siren of the desert. Furiously working overtime in the lab, ignoring obligations to visit family, tying up the loose ends of frayed romances, and racing nearly 500 miles to Death Valley to witness the shroud of wildflowers uplifted by the ‘thousand- year flood’ from nearly five months before. They had a week -- perhaps ten days - left before the kaleidoscope of desert gold, phacelia, and paintbrush was baked back into the taupe mosaic of rock and sand.
After many hours of gridlock traffic -- and then a snowy impasse blocking a direct mountain crossing - they were less than an hour from their campsite. Until now, things had felt surprisingly dormant. The intensity of their bond could self-ignite and combust with minimal tinder. Road trips were often the flint. As a pair, they were prone to diversions. To impulses. To impassioned exchanges when confined. Last summer, it had taken them nearly twenty-four hours to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Eruption occurred at hour twenty-three. Passing below the Panamints’s looming silhouette, a thick silence filled the car. Lina leaned back with eyes closed, breath deep. Cora grasped for petals.