The Desert in Bloom

On the last day of our quixotic journey West, we rented a car and took off into the desert—The Mojave Desert itself, Red Rock Canyon more specifically. It was a balmy 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but surprisingly bearable. I even did a bit of hiking, because I wanted to see some Native American petroglyphs, written high on a rock wall. I always like to check out other people’s art, and went away both moved and impressed. You can’t help but think of the people here before, the native tribes, who called this severe land home. It’s a fierce and unforgiving place, but I can see how you could come to love it with a passion: the magnificent colors and textures of the rocks and stone, the sharp blue canopy of endless sky, the brave and stubborn greenery provided by mesquite and cacti. When I was there, the cacti were erupting in flowers, beautiful and delicate apricot-gold blossoms. Life seems to find a way, almost everywhere on earth.

I understand now where the desert gets its reputation for spirituality. There is little there but earth and sky, you and God. A bit of sparse vegetation, a few critters such as snakes and scorpions, but really not much in the way of distraction. There is nothing to do but hike, look for water…and pray. The utter vastness, the bigness of it all suggests both eternity and its creator; and as the only humans out there—I guess we went on a slow day—it was easy to feel humble and small. A friend had told us that night was the best time of all, that the stars were magnificent; but alas, by nightfall, we were already in transit back to the East,  up in the sky ourselves with the stars.

And now back in the relatively cool, humid East, with its limited vistas, I feel a little crestfallen, looking at the pictures I took over and over again, remembering almost fondly the ovenlike heat and the crunch of rock underfoot (under the superbly impractical flip-flops I actually wore). Walking the Las Vegas strip was fun and diverting; but walking the desert was a true experience of the spirit and the soul, one I won’t forget for a very long time.


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