Deserts and I Don’t Really Get Along: Reflections on Big Bend

Big Bend is where I first learned the desert hates me.

I’d never been to a desert before, and while I knew it would be hot and dry, I was also looking forward to seeing all sorts of new plants and animals – and to its cooling down at night. I figured I’d handled hot places before, and we were going in April, far from the hottest month.

The heat isn’t what I should have been concerned about. Yes, it was hot. The temperatures got up to triple digits in the middle of the day – and oh yeah, the “middle of the day” is from about 10AM to 4PM – but beyond that it was unbelievably, inconceivably, and in my opinion entirely too dry.

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I had been lucky enough to realize I had some kind of virus developing the night before we left, and I’m sure my sore throat and stuffy nose weren’t helped by the aridity but there was more to it than that. There’s something about the dryness of the desert that saps not only every ounce of moisture it can from my body, but also every thought of hiking anything resembling a slope or going for a walk longer than 15 or 20 minutes.

It was a bizarre experience for me – in my life, dry air has always been coupled with the cold. Going to school in Minnesota, temperatures on January days would peak around 8 degrees if we were lucky, and the air didn’t really carry any moisture. But hot and dry was new, and I can say unequivocally that if I were to list the earthly environments for which I was most suited, the desert would probably be second from last, beating out only the bottom of the ocean.

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Which is a shame because it’s absolutely beautiful. Life is everywhere – spindly bushes with tiny leaves, little lizards that dart across rocks, roadrunners and quail, coyotes who saunter across the road at sunset, shy big-eared mule deer watching any humans from a safe distance, and cacti of every size and shape.

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After awhile, you get used to being surrounded by rock-strewn dirt and low grey-green shrubs, and you lose the sense of awe at the sheer size of the sky. It feels natural to look for clumps of green that indicate the presence of a spring, and to watch your footsteps carefully to avoid any basking rattlesnakes.

The desert is beautiful, yes, but it’s harsh, and it’s not hard for me to accept that I’m simply not made to live in a desert.

A cave, on the other hand, might do quite nicely.

See you on the road!

Louisa

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Staying in the moment: Whether we have a choice or not

About a week ago, we got a question from Marscha Chenoweth that we thought required a separate post as a response, even moreso given recent events. She writes:

“I’m wondering if you are now or maybe as time goes on, you will feel pressure to take less time and energy to enjoy the park you are in, and start moving into the future thinking of the parks to come. To make it simple – how are you staying in the moment?”

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The Park with the Looming Overpasses: Reflections on Cuyahoga Valley

Cuyahoga is small – small and young, as National Parks go, since it was only established as a Park in 2000. Of course, knowing that it is not your typical vision of a national park and experiencing it for yourself are two different things. I knew Cuyahoga was small – I’d looked into it beforehand and discovered that it didn’t even support a developed campground, let alone more than one to choose from, as many other parks do. I expected it to be mostly trails and a few old buildings, and for us to have some decent hikes. Because I hadn’t researched it too thoroughly, though – being distracted by tidbits of information on the more well-known parks, as well as the goings-on of my host family and kids in France – I didn’t expect it to be quite the juxtaposition of worlds that it is.

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