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The Desert

Very little water. Scorching sun. Summer temperatures well over 100 degrees. The truth is that Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts meet, is a oven for much of the year. And at first glance, the desert does looks barren, dry, dusty, dead – overheated and desiccated. But in reality, the desert is alive and it is asking something of those who venture into its moonscapes, washes, and badlands. The desert insists that you slow down, pay attention, and notice all of the ways that plants and animals have adapted, adjusted, and even learned to thrive in the desert. The desert is no lush rainforest. There aren’t bubbling brooks and moss covered trees. But the desert is remarkably alive, in still, quiet ways.

As we spent a day exploring Joshua Tree National Park, I thought about the “desert fathers and mothers,” religious people (hermits, monks, ascetics) who left the hustle and bustle of cities and lived in the Egyptian desert. There, they slowed down, encountered “God,” Spirit, and their inner worlds; there, they lived simply, and practiced life saving hospitality with other desert travelers and dwellers.

So often, human beings ask: What’s the value of this place/thing/object? And on the surface, the desert doesn’t benefit human beings at all – not like a river, or a lake, or a fertile field, or a forest. In this Western paradigm, a place is only worth wh at it produces or what can be taken from in and humans can’t utilize or extract resources from the desert like we can in other places. And yet, there is beauty and miracle in the desert, such as the cholla garden that stretches as far as the eye can see, offering a rest stop and home to bees, wrens, and butterflies. There is wonder that the tall rocks of Hidden Valley trap just enough extra moisture that junipers and pines can take root. The desert demands respect. I have fallen in love with the desert, with the dust, the prickly spines, the roughness, the wide open washes, hinting at flash floods past and present, and the Joshua Trees (said to be the inspiration for the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax) that spread their limbs wide.

Cholla Garden

Cholla Garden

Cholla Garden

Cholla are known for “jumping” onto people and clothes.

Hidden Valley

Climbing rocks at Hidden Valley

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