A single bird chirped, its sound carried on the wind that whipped across the rugged desert landscape. Occasionally, I could hear a low hum of airplanes in the distance or the laughter from my friends further up the trail, but, for the most part, the only sound was the steady crunch of my hiking boots grinding against the hard-packed sand as I made my way up the path to the abandoned mine.
The desert is a hostile place, and Joshua Tree National Park is no exception. A fire had torn through the park only 10 months earlier, and the charred Joshua trees stood naked on the sandy terrain with only the occasional scrub brush adding to the hilly backdrop. I leaned it to touch one of the burnt trees; a residual smoky smell still clung to the plant.
I know a lot of people turn a blind eye toward the desert, declaring it ugly or inhospitable and opting instead for a sandy beach with large palm trees or tight paths cut through luscious green forests. To me, though, there’s something raw and rugged about the desert that draws me to it. The wind and dust tear at my eyes; the sun sizzles my skin. My body is depleted of water in the humidity-free desert.
But I have a way to escape in the desert. I slip on sunglasses and slather on sunscreen. I drink gallons of water. And then I admire the ability of the wildlife and plants to survive in this otherworldly environment. The plants struggle against the wind and sun to stay alive, and yet they’re so bountiful and gorgeous when they flower every spring. The birds hunker down in cacti and small rodents dart from hole to shade, hurrying over the hot sand to find food in the midday heat.
The animals and plant life in the desert have to fight to claim their space in the desert just as humans have to want to find the bizarre beauty in this hostile environment.
My boots continue to crunch against the sand as I walk. I crest a peak in the path. My friends are waiting for me, pointing at a small patch of red paintbrush flowers, which stand out in stark contrast against the earth tones.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” one of them says.
Yes. Yes it is.