It sounded exotic and interesting, and it was definitely outside my comfort zone. Which is exactly why I wanted to go.
A vast desert spread across Southern California where dirt and sand drapes across the landscape like a large woolen blanket. A place where the Mojave Desert meets the Colorado Desert. A land draped in every shade of brown with a complimentary sprinkling of green. An environment that looks as if it is just barely holding on.
That is the illusion the desert wants you to believe.
In reality, the desert and the life it supports are incredibly adapted to the heat, dryness, and perceived scarcity. It is the perfect illusion.
When one is looking for personal growth and expansion, it is often said you must step outside your comfort zone. For me that would encompass the desert. So I took the step and embarked on a solo adventure to Joshua Tree National Park to be followed up by a three-day Deep Dive Retreat in the desert hosted by three of the authors (Ana Maria Vasquez, Dr. Steven Farmer, & Marilyn Alauria) from the Common Sentience Book Series by Sacred Stories Publishing. Something else I have never done before (more on that in another blog, perhaps).
I have traveled alone before, but to places of comfort and knowing. I knew this would be different. To travel across a desert landscape in a rental car alone takes faith and a belief in yourself—especially when the IMPORTANT INFORMATION on the park brochure begins with: People have died here from preventable accidents!
The month was October so the temperature was a mild 80ish degrees. I quickly learned in the desert everything is exaggerated and 80 degrees felt like 180 after you were exposed to the glaring sun long enough, i.e. five minutes!
Desert animals consist of the desert tortoise, rattlesnakes, tarantula, giant hairy scorpion, lizards, iguana, woodrat, jackrabbit, kit fox, big horn sheep; and birds from hummingbirds to the Cactus wren to the Gambel’s quail to the Greater roadrunner to hawks and owls and shrikes. Also, not to be forgotten numerous bugs, butterflies, and moths.
I experienced a lizard crossing the road, a hummingbird feeding on a red ocotillo blossom, various birds harboring in whatever bushes they could find and two ravens that watched over me from the south entrance to the turn that would take me west.
Plant life consists of the Ocotillo, yucca, brittlebush, smoketree, scrub oak, pinyon pines, juniper, Joshua trees and various cacti.
The rest of the landscape consists of dirt, sand and mounds of rocks piled and strewn about. Rock formations centuries in the making birthed by the land but shaped and buffed by the neighboring sand and wind and occasional water.
That’s what is so amazing in the desert. All of life has adapted to the lack of water amongst extreme heat. I had plenty of water stored within my rental car and relied on it regularly. Where and how life in the desert finds its source of water is still a mystery to me, but I know it exists even though it cannot be seen.
The desert is a place of stillness. It has a pace all to its own. That is until the wind picks up and the sand comes alive dancing and twirling about. Nothing stands in its way and shapeshifting takes flight. Or when the sun sets relieving the scorched earth of its burden, and critters that have laid dormant throughout the day come out to explore. It’s a reminder that even the docile holds a strength all to its own.
My biggest lesson was the desert is not a touchy-feely place.
When exploring an environment, I have a habit of touching the trees and plants and rocks; smelling the flowers and feeling the earth beneath my feet. I found that in the desert, most everything bites back!
Now, I knew cactus had fierce thorns or spines and cannot be touched, but I had no idea most every other plant draped across the desert landscape does too. The bark of the Joshua Tree is dry and coarse. The leaves of the Joshua Tree are sharp and pointy. The Ocotillo plant looks elegant and gentle until you get up close and see its spikey thorns scattered about its delicate leaves. Rocks that look smooth as glass are actually abrasive and sharp. I will say it again…
The desert is the perfect illusion!
To demonstrate the weaponry the desert has to offer, here are two interesting facts I learned. The loggerhead shrike, also known as the “butcherbird”, often impales its prey on the sharp-pointed leaves of the Joshua tree. The pinacate beetle, also known as the “circus beetle”, does a headstand while emitting a foul-smelling secretion when threatened. I did not witness either of these acts of adaptation, but I am still impressed none the less.
As for the wildlife, I enjoyed my raven companions and wished I could better identify the birds fluttering about within the bushes. I wish I would have seen a tortoise and yes, even a tarantula…from a good distance, of course! The lizard turned out to be my big wildlife encounter.
As I traveled the two-lane road stretched between miles and miles of dirt, sand and an occasional bush, I noticed it. From a distance I could see this tiny being slithering at a rapid pace across the road, the way a human would hop across black asphalt on a hot summer afternoon if they were barefoot. It was small by comparison, but absolutely fascinating to watch.
I quickly pulled the car to the side of the road to get a closer look, as if I was pulling over to see a bison off a Wyoming highway. What I neglected to remember is that the lizard is small and the color of the earth. Regardless, I climbed the sand drift on the side of the road and began looking diligently under and around the only bush. No sign of the lizard whatsoever, but I took photos anyway. It was only when I looked at the photos afterwards that I could see I captured it amongst the twigs and branches of the bush. Can you see the lizard?
I also learned the desert is a magical place in its own right and I can appreciate what the desert has to offer. It’s a harsh environment, to say the least, and I take my hat off to the plants and critters that have adapted to living in such an environment. That includes humans, as well.
I thought after my trip to Joshua Tree I would stop saying, I am not a desert person, but the truth is, I am not a desert person. Which is okay! We need people to love the dust and the heat, otherwise, we’d truly be living on top of each other.
This trip also made me realize I had a something in common with my friend, Clark the Mountain Beaver. I love water! I like hearing it, seeing it, and feeling it. It can be in the form of a stream, a lake, a river or an ocean. It can fall from the sky as rain, snow or hail. Just as long as it has the potential to be around me, I am happy.
I will never understand why someone wants to be hot and sticky and sweaty. And I know, those people are saying, “Why would you want to be wet and cold?”
And like them, all I can say is, “I don’t know. That’s just how I am.”
And all of this is okay, for perhaps, we too, are part of the illusion.
The key is, when given the chance to step outside our comfort zone, we should take it every now and then.