The long and lonely valleys, the stark uplift of mountain, the play of light on cholla and ocotillo–this is the desert. We four-wheeled through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, heading further and further back into those fierce, abrupt canyons. The San Jacinto Range caught the fire of the setting sun, a dry alpenglow thousands of feet from our white sand wash. We crossed rivers whose mere existence explodes a cornucopia of life–sycamores, cottonwoods, sunflowers, palms. The dragon’s teeth of the ridges above faded from red to purple to a soft bruising in the desert evening. We made camp near a pile of car-sized granite boulders stacked like indelicate cairns above the creosote.
A campfire, guitars, stars, and beers. The cold brush of the night wind. The moon rose, fat and contemptuous of stars, and cast a snow-like glow across the Sheep Canyon. Our shadows stretched and grew, transformed by the light into ghosts of ghosts. An owl hooted in the remaining darkness, but no answer came.
In the opening strains, sunlight whispered quietly among the granite. The hiss of boiling water and smell of brewing coffee encouraged the dawn, and the world woke around us. Birds twittered and danced in the great openness of the desert sky. We headed on foot towards the dark splotches of palm groves dabbed haphazardly along the canyon’s ravines.
Lurching, clambering, crawling, ducking, scraping, and generally not doing anything close to
normal hiking, we made our way up the canyon boulder by boulder. Here we are forced down to the flowing stream and the blockades of reeds and fronds. There we are scrambling along the ridge, skirting water-pocked boulders and wait-a-minute acacia. A grotto chooses to reveal itself, the cool waterfall keeping the sycamores and palms sated. We fight on, each mile measured in hours and sweat. Another grotto. A third and we stop for lunch. The running water lulls Dad to sleep, and I climb to the minor peak above. From a pinnacle boulder, nothing but hard ridge after hard ridge, rivers of boulders and palms, darkening skies–the ragged edge of the world.
The clouds gather as we return to camp. They muster a light rain, the last vestiges of moisture spent on the western side. It’s a simple thing, really. Refreshing the barrels and cholla, softening the stones, muting the desert’s edges.
The next day, we leave. Heading back, too many people–in the throes of desert expanse, one is too many–and here is civilization and roads and shops and bars and the whole mess of the world. We drive out over those needled mountains and the rain increases, obscuring the narrow canyons and twisting washes. A lone cactus reaches out towards the road, but we pass it by and the rain hides its supplicating form.