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