Dante's View in Death Valley / Jon Sullivan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dante's View in Death Valley / Jon Sullivan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Divine Comedy

Shaka Guide

How are we doing, friends? Trust me when I say the view up ahead is worth it. At 11,000 feet the Panamint Mountains loom over Badwater Basin, so majestically. It’s really a wow moment. Anyway, we’ll be at Dante’s View in about 10 minutes. 

Now, I’ve thrown a lotta pop culture references at ya today. So here’s one for the book-lovers. Let’s think about an old poem suited for this unforgiving desert. We’re in a boiling hot place called Death Valley, with place names recalling the devil. And now we’re making our way up toward the heavens. Any classic literature come to mind? And let’s not forget, we’re heading to an overlook called Dante’s View. That’s right, I’m thinking about Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

Dante’s View is named after the legendary poet. For those who’ve never read his epic poem, the Divine Comedy follows Dante as he’s guided through the three realms of the afterlife: the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. And in each realm, there are a series of circles, or different levels. It’s a journey of the soul, from darkness to light.

Down through the circles of the Inferno, Dante must confront his own shortcomings as people are tortured according to their sins. Yeah, let’s get outta here. Purgatory is depicted as a mountain, with people climbing to the top toward redemption. And in Paradise, Dante makes his way to the highest circle of heaven, where he sees God and has an epiphany that he can’t explain. But he tries anyway. “As much of Heaven’s holy realm as I could store and treasure in my mind, shall now become the subject of my song.”

If nothing else, the Divine Comedy highlights that mankind is capable of great evil, and of great sacrifice and love. And we have the free will to choose. On this road to Dante’s View, I think about the choices people here in Death Valley have made in the past. Who performed great acts of sacrifice and love, and who could’ve used a “journey of the soul.” Maybe that was the intention of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, when they named the overlook Dante’s View. Or maybe the construction workers were thrilled at the scenery, and the cooler temperatures, after a grueling journey to build the road. Either way, I hope you feel that this trek, from the bottom of the continent to the top of a mountain, feels redeeming in some way. And hey, if ya have an epiphany, make sure to include that in a review!

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