I remember thinking that the desert was nothing, but a boring collection or gravelly sand and simple Saguaro cactus. This could not be farther from the truth. There is much to experience on a desert walk and more beauty that you can hope to behold! However, walking in the desert is not your average walk. It has a set of unique challenges that you might not experience, say, mall walking or walking through a park. The allure of the desert is worth the challenge. If you know me, you know I love all things un-easy and I always find valuable lessons in my adventures.
For example, the terrain is rugged and treacherous. From a distance, everything looks rounded and smooth, like Fred Flintstone’s house, but upon closer examination, it is jagged and rough. It is easy to get a firm footing, but equally easy to trip in a sharp outcropping. And nothing in the desert allows for a soft place to land, if you actually fall. This is why it is so important to be present as you walk. The ground is secure and the scenery is stunning, but always be mindful of where you step.
EVERYTHING has thorns. Everything. Even the dead things. Some are short and innocent looking and others are long and tough as sewing machine needles. Not just that, they are all sharp and unforgiving. Most will run through anything softer than saddle leather, like a hot knife through butter. The beauty of the cactus and thorny trees and bushes juxtapose their aggressive exterior. It is interesting how they tend to grow in bunches, creating a winding maze of soft green hues covered with nasty barbs. The need for vision is critical. Not only do you need to look for immediate hazards, you need to chart your course carefully. An open wash may quickly turn a user-friendly path to inescapable trap. Look for openings, near you and at a distance.
Be careful of changes in the environment. The weather can turn on you quickly. A morning walk may start out cool and relaxing, but don’t get caught on a ridge when the sun gets high. The breeze that you relished a few moments earlier, could carry the heat of a convection oven before long. Everyone travels with a bottle of water, in the desert. It is, literally, lifesaving. Being prepared for a change in the elements matters. Even if the chance is slim that you will get caught unawares, have a plan for the worst-case scenario. Plan B is rarely needed, but it gives you added confidence as you venture out into the wilderness.
Keep to higher ground. As with any travel, the more you can see the more capable you are of navigating the terrain. Even though desert mountains are as immense as the Canadian Rockies, they are still high enough to create valleys that mess with your sense of direction. There is no getting around the low spots, but keep your eye on your next peak and travel with care. Those nasty tangles of barbed blockades often lurk in the valleys, having you wander in circles looking for a way out.
For all the challenge that is out there in the desert, there is an equal or greater gift. I took some time to perch upon a ledge and take in the expansive splendor around me. I was overcome with gratitude and peace. Each breath a gracious gift, each moment an opportunity to be, I sat and listened to the tinkling music of nature. Yes, there are challenges all around us, but this is exactly what makes the peak so delicious!