It’s quiet. That’s usually the first thing you notice when you are in the desert. It’s not the quiet of a city, where things stop for a split second, leaving only the hum of lights burning the fluorescent orange glow into the low hanging clouds of the night sky, and then the noises restart so quickly that one forgets that there even was a moment without sound. It’s not the quiet of the mountains, where winds whisper across the rocks and make them groan from the cold long nights. It’s not the quiet of the forest, where the trees talk to the ground, the ground talks to the stars, and the animals walk between all of those noises. It’s not the quiet of the jungle, where the day shudders with the sound of constant growth and the chatter of bugs. It’s not even the quiet of the ocean, which murmurs comfortable nothings, nor the quiet of ice that blinds your ears with the sound of death. The desert is none of those things. It is the quiet of the unknown.
It is not just the quiet of the unknown that permeates the desert. It is the quiet of the unexpected. It’s the silence of the calm before the storm. It’s the silence of rapidly building heat. It’s the silence of icy cold. It’s the silence of a coming storm, of wind that scourges sand over your bones, or rain that floods and rushes over all that it sees. It’s the silence of shifting terrain, from flat plateaus, to boulder strewn hills, to impossible mountains and shifting dunes, and everything in between. It’s the lack of water where springs are marked on maps, and impossible wells where there should be none. It’s the quiet of a changing landscape, where things fade out of wavy lines into substance, and then disappear again, and of things that stay fixed in one spot, but should not be corporeal. Above all, it’s the silence that is the desert, a silence that seems to be watching you at all times.
One cannot travel in the desert and not be changed by it. Whether it is a simple case of nerves, or actual oddities, the desert changes you, just as surely as your tracks change its features. Just as easily, if you are not prepared, a desert can make you fade from existence with its sliding sands and vastness as if you never existed. Desert travel involves a lot of risks because of the unknown and unexpected variables. But, in my opinion, the risks are well worth it, as the desert possesses a cold and majestic beauty, and many undiscovered wonders. Practically, deserts cover over one fifth of the earth’s surface, and in some instances are growing. In fact, some leading scientists believe that should global warming continue to go forward, eventually, the earth’s surface will be one large desert, an idea that’s somewhat popularized in the upcoming movie Obselida (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhly0dt8Fj0). Despite how the world may or may not end, there are many amazing things to see in deserts; things of wonder; things of beauty; and unexpected and unknown things. Since I’m in Southern California, I’m fortunate to be near a number of deserts – if not one large un-named desert, so the next couple weeks will be stories from things I’ve seen this year as I once again explored some new and favorite locations this winter and spring. So, let me be your guide, and follow me out into the invisible unknown wastelands that I know.