Death Valley Has a Secret Shrine to…Tea

Take a kettle, leave a kettle at this remote junction

Six miles to Racetrack, a million miles from civilization—except for the tea. Doug Meek/Corbis
Kettles are regularly left (and taken) by travelers. side78 (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Thomas Hawk (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Thomas Hawk (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Thomas Hawk (Flickr/Creative Commons)

With an annual high temperature of 91 degree Fahrenheit and a world record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, it’s fair to say that Death Valley's extreme heat really boils. But tucked within one of the remotest parts of the region is a place where something else boils…teakettles, dozens of them. It’s called Teakettle Junction, and it’s a secret, unlikely shrine to tea.

The quirky display is located on a bumpy dirt road on the way to Racetrack, Death Valley National Park’s bizarre playa filled with rocks that move across the dry desert landscape their own. The boulders fall to the surface of the playa from the mountains above, then inch along the surface due to a combination of water and wind.

It’s a bizarre sight, but people have embraced Teakettle Junction. You can spot the homage easily—just look for the sign covered in dozens of dangling kettles. People leave the kettles there as a kind of tribute, inscribing them with messages and hanging them all over the sign in a kind of ritualistic acknowledgment of the people willing to brave the desolate desertscape.

No one is certain how the name “Teakettle Junction” came to be, just that at some point visitors started leaving inscribed kettles on the sign. A Death Valley National Park official tells Dolev Schrieber of that the National Park Service sometimes replaces the sign and removes the kettles, but that old kettles are often collected by visitors. Some consider it good luck to take a kettle and leave one; others just enjoy the unexpected view on a very remote road. It could be considered akin to geocaching, in which participants use GPS systems to locate caches filled with logbooks and trinkets around the world. (For the record, the Junction’s is latitude 36-45'37'’ North, longitude 117-32'33'’ West.)

Who started the tradition, and why does it endure? You might as well ask why people started leaving shoes on a tree on America’s loneliest highway or gum on a Seattle wall. Perhaps part of Teakettle Junction’s lasting allure is the weird idea of pausing for a cup of hot tea in the midst of one of the world’s hottest deserts after nearly 30 miles on an unforgiving, bumpy road. Is Teakettle Junction a tribute to tea or to the strange affinity felt by explorers, road trippers and adventurers? Either way, it serves as a spout of levity, pouring good cheer into the barren geography.

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