One of the places I looked forward to visiting during our trips last year was Death Valley.

Yes, I looked forward to visiting a place with “death” in its name. As an avid childhood reader of my local newspaper’s weather section and even more avid devourer of the Guinness Book of World Records, Death Valley held an almost mystical place in my imagination, with its always high – and sometimes record-setting – temperatures.

Somewhere in Death Valley. I have no idea what sort of face Choppy is making in this photo.
Somewhere in Death Valley. I have no idea what sort of face Choppy is making in this photo, nor why she is making said face.

I am pretty sure this fascination with Death Valley had something to do with growing up in Wisconsin – it’s a lot further (weather-wise) from Wisconsin to Death Valley than it is from Wisconsin to Antarctica.


  • The hottest it has ever been in Death Valley? 134° Fahrenheit.
  • The coldest it has ever been in Antarctica? -129° Fahrenheit.
  • The hottest it has ever been in Madison, Wisconsin, where I grew up? 107° Fahrenheit.
  • The coldest it has ever been in Madison? -37° Fahrenheit.

For those who don’t do math, that’s almost a 100° difference in the cold temperatures, but only 27° on the hot ones. So maybe there was a bit of hyperbole in that last paragraph. Then again, had I not done that crack research (read: looked up those fun facts on Wikipedia), you totally would have believed the previous statement about the relative weather]

[Note 2:  Sorry Celsius people, you will have to convert those on your own]

Death Valley ended up being one of the more memorable stops during our travels. Yes, it is bleak. Yes, it is a stark, harsh landscape. At the same time, it’s a place where warm weather is almost a guarantee. And when you grew up in Wisconsin, that counts for a lot.

The most interesting thing we saw at Death Valley had nothing to do with the scenery, though. On our drive out of the park, we ran into a pack of coyotes.

Hello, Coyote.
Hello, Coyotes.

Everywhere I have lived in the United States, there are coyotes (unsurprisingly, as they are found in every state except Hawaii). That said, the coyotes are almost ghosts. You hear them at night, howling to each other, at the moon, just for fun; but you only see them as glimpses, darting across a road in the dusk or as a pair of eyes glowing in the headlights of your car at the side of the road.

The coyotes at Death Valley were different, though. These coyotes were out and about in the daylight, boldly approaching passing cars and acting almost like street dogs in a foreign country – wary of you, but eager for a handout.

And a handout is exactly what these coyotes were looking for. Someone had obviously been feeding them. I may be a softie (as seen in Choppy’s treat situation), but I am not going to feed a wild coyote, even if they otherwise have to resort to eating caterpillars.

Apparently, the begging is not an uncommon behavior for coyotes at Death Valley. And while I hope for the sake of the coyotes that others stop feeding them, I will say that the misbehavior of others gave me an experience I will not soon forget.

[Note 3: Another blogger heard the Death Valley coyotes – though it doesn’t appear he got the up-close-and-personal view that I did]

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