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.
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.
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.
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!