Moab in Bloom

There is a point in time each year between winter and spring where I get a craving to head west, escaping the snowy high altitude Colorado environment to a place that is warm and sandy. A place that smells like Juniper berries. A place where I can wake up at dawn, put on some flip flops, and simply wander off in any random direction with no particular agenda in mind. A place where my hair remains disheveled from the sleeping bag, and the weathered patina from the prior day’s activities still clings to my exposed skin. A place that is itself still waking up from a quiet winter, free from any sign of last year’s human visitation, neatly swept clean by the wind.

white rim 2

Often, the only visible signs of human presence remain from fifty years ago (maybe a rusty old can), or when I’m really lucky, stone tool flakes from centuries past, revealed by this same winter wind.  There have been times when I stumbled upon scattered vertebrate fossils and Therapod Dinosaur footprints. That sense of timelessness afforded by the desert is something incomparable.

At one point in time, I began to enjoy these unstructured moments so much that it was not uncommon to find me occupying the desert for weeks on end. (For a while there, people started to wonder if I actually lived in Colorado still or had moved to Moab.)

stemless woollybase
Stemless Woollybase

Recently, I ventured out to the desert again, though I arrived in darkness after a day of work. Upon arrival to one of my go-to, little-known camping spots, I took a deep breath, then immediately felt the desire to wander, aimlessly.

cactus pricklypear
Pricklypear Cactus

Scrambling down a sandstone ledge into a sandy wash seemed like the best route to take on this particular visit. With light in hand, I followed rabbit tracks in the sand, led into the light breeze by the scent of something sweet. As I picked my way through Pricklypear Cactus and Harriman’s Yucca stalks, past scratchy sage clumps while carefully avoiding the Cryptobiotic soil crust patches, I arrived at the source of the intense, honey-sweet fragrance. The Cliff Rose were loaded with their creamy-white flowers at peak bloom.

harrimans yucca
Harrimans Yucca

Though these moments only exist for a few weeks each year, it is reassuring to know that they can be experienced again, with only a year of patience. And each week, something new appears to provide a similarly satisfying discovery, maybe even more interesting. One week it might be a blooming flower, another, a surprise petroglyph discovery. This is why I choose to keep visiting the Utah desert, because it doesn’t seem to grow old, though it is indeed ancient.

balanced stone
Balanced Stone

Here is a small sampling of the Moab desert plants in bloom at the moment:

 

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