It gets so hot in Death Valley you can fry an egg on a rock. So what's so cool about that?
Helda’s fingers slipped over her Dodge Caravan’s hot dashboard. Sweat dripped of their ends of her hot pink fingernails painted for celebration. “I keep forgetting. No air.”
Her clothes felt like she was swimming in them. “Can we stop? I’m drowning in myself.” One look towards the back revealed the wiped out shapes of Roy Junior and Henrietta. They were too numbed out by the hot, man-made wind they were traveling to move.
“Are we there yet?” Roy Junior's eight-year-old voice cried out weakly for help.
Her five year old brother responded by emptying the bag of Cheetos in his listless hand over her head. The sound creaking out of his mouth was the ghost of laughter that began days ago at the vacation’s start. The long road trip across the country went from exciting, to boring, ending up in disaster.
”Cool it, you two. We’ll be there soon.” The words dripped out of Helda’s mouth without her more than having to move her tongue. Any move at all reminded that part of her body in motion that it could not escape the onward plunge into Death Valley’s two hundred and eighty two feet below sea level desert floor.
“It will be hotter if I stop. You’ll blister your feet stepping out on the road.” Roy’s hands held at ten and two O’clock on the steering wheel. He had won the flip of a coin three thousand miles back at the beginning of this journey into nowhere. Now tempers had flared to the boiling point along with the weather. Touring one hundred and fifteen heat was a half baked idea at best.
Roy Senior had planned well. It was a wonderful place to stargaze in the relative cool of the night. Except the kids were too tired out by the heat of the day to open their eyes heavenward. Swimming in the hot springs seemed cooler at first until sun baked skin turned them into red Indians.
“We’re here.” Their car jerked, making popping sounds as the radiator turned into a geyser as the lid popped off. They couldn’t get out of the van fast enough.
“Where is here?” Helda shielded her eyes with one hand to stare around her. They had stopped among an endless flow of rainbow colored rock.
“Welcome to the Timbisha Shoshone Indian tribal land.” A wink of an obsidian eye took us in. “Invaded again. Got the money, partner?”
Roy fumbled in his back pocket as the kids huddled around Helda wondering if their hair was going to be scalped. “He’s only going to scalp my hard earned savings.”
The Indian’s hand circled Roy’s cash held in the palm of his hand like it was a wagon train of 49’s hunting the quick way to the California gold fields. “This way, pale faces.”
“You read up on us like I asked in the letter?” Speaking English like a native brought some calm to the kids faces. Helda tried catching her husband’s eye without success.
“You lived here thousands of years living off the land that killed us whites just passing through.” Roy had bits and pieces memorized. “You are family groups sometimes little bigger than us.”
The fifty’ish Indian nodded without smiling. “You did your homework. What about the pine nuts? You get that?” His cowboy hat, jeans and T-shirt seemed the wrong thing for him to be wearing. Maybe it was the fact there was no sweat at all anywhere on the man.
“Harvest them by the pot full. Cook them over a fire at night. Bury the extra pots under the fire before building it up the next night of harvest. That way you had a store to come back to next time around the trail.” Roy recited like a child at school.
“We had some of those at home, huh, dad?” Roy Junior crept out from his mother’s arms to tug at his dad’s.
"Full of protein, last forever if stored right, and no harmful additives." Roy brushed a hand through his son's hair. "We'll be here awhile until we get hold of a ranger to have the car and us towed back to civilization."
He blushed at the look Helda gave him. "Thought I'd surprise you. You did say you were tired of the same old boring vacations."
Henrietta brushed a fly from her face. “He’s the real deal, isn’t he, mom? How does he stay so cool looking?”
“You whites don’t listen to mother nature at all do you?” The old Shoshone knelt on his knees, hands weaving and tugging leaves from a nearby plant. “Rub this on you where it hurts. It is a natural sunscreen and painkiller. Tell anyone remotely related to a pharmaceutical company and I’ll hunt you down then slice your throats with a hunting knife.” He patted his side where a long blade hung.
Helda stared at her kids and husband, as she listened to how to live with nature. They were totally absorbed in this unique drama. "You knocked the socks off us, hot stuff." Helda gave her husband a sizzling kiss while her kids asked a hundred questions about living life as one of the earliest American's descendants. It was turning out to be a cool vacation after all.