Desert. For many, the word conjures up a vast desolate barrenness. Wasteland. Dry, blowing dusty scorching hot days, sans water, no life to speak of, a place that one is banished to, punishment for a litany of misdeeds.
I don’t think I’ve ever viewed them that way, not since I made my first diorama in elementary school, attempting an approximation of the Gobi desert. I remember putting a small hand mirror flat on the floor surface, surrounded by sand obtained from the property we lived on out in Long Island, New York at that time. I was in the 4th grade, I worked with what I had, you know?
I don’t recall exactly how I learned about the Mojave Desert, but I believe my first visit to what was at the time the East Mojave National Scenic Area took place soon after I moved to San Francisco, around 1992. It became a National Preserve in 1994, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. I quickly expanded my wandering range from there up to the hot springs town of Tecopa and the nearby Amargosa Valley. Death Valley is near to that area as well, but truth be told, I’ve only visited Death Valley once. It’s a marvelous place, but doesn’t hold the sense of magic and wonder I experience in those other two areas in the region.
Over the years, I have visited in all seasons, but I have preferred being there in summer. The air seemingly vibrates in the loud quiet of the summer season. Temperatures soar then, and it’s a trick to camp out. I’ve occasionally caved to the need for an air conditioned night when the nights never dropped below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I love it best then, when, loaded up with water and salty chips, I have the spaces virtually to myself. Me and the lizards and the very occasional sighting of snakes.
As a result of a planned road trip commencing in early October, I had the pleasure of visiting the area in the fall this year. The winds are, at times, challenging, but I found them exhilarating all the same. I didn’t pull out my camera as much as I would have due to fairly frequent rain alongside that wind, but it was still a marvelous experience. I had one day that I was able to take a hike behind China Ranch near Tecopa. It is a date farm, a veritable oasis in that desert. Behind the farm is open land, what folks call the badlands, which are made available to all by the landowners. It is arguably one of my favorite places on earth.
I had two good friends ask me if I weren’t considering looking for work in the region, and possibly affording myself the opportunity to access the land and the springs that flow at Tecopa all the time. It has crossed my mind on many occasions. Perhaps I will one of these days. I know enough to recognize that living in a place is different than being a visitor. Nevertheless, there is something about these spaces that fit me well. We shall see.