NBR: Desert Color, Desert Texture

Last weekend brought another trip to the desert, a very quick 24 hours at Joshua Tree National Park which, by the way was all the more enjoyable because the entry fee was waived, courtesy of the nations' military veterans, and the National Park Service. Due to the very short amount of time, I figured it would be better spent afoot, and gave no thought to bringing the bike.

I have often written about the two competing views of our surroundings - the wide, distant view, and the more narrow, up close one, and how they compliment one another; how combined they present a complete picture. I have always loved the desert, believing that for what ever reason I view it differently than most. People will drive through it at seventy-five miles per hour and see nothing but waste, a mono-colored barren void. When a person travels through at those speeds it is impossible to grasp the true nature of place, saliency does indeed become a barren void. You get out of the journey equal to what you put into it. It takes slowing down in both speed and time to begin to grasp everything the desert is. Walking a sandy wash, scrambling over a backbone of desert boulders jutting from the plain, navigating from where you are to where you want to be, requires a calculation of efficiency. The straight-lined route rarely works.

In the desert time outstrips speed of foot; the horizon only slowly evolves from the closing of distance. Light and shadow affect the far view quicker, as the Sun speeds through the day overhead, pausing neither for wonder nor for weariness. These things are of no concern to the Sun. No different the Moon, to whom Coyote pours forth a nightly lament - in the desert his constraints are shared only with those measuring time to the next sunrise.

The contrast between vast and small achieves its greatest definition in the desert. The blood red leaf prostrate at the toe of your boot, catches the eye for its vivid contrast not its size. Even so, the mind finds it difficult to comprehend the vastness to a distant horizon when measured against so insignificant an object. 

The desert is as much about texture, as it is distance and time. The desert is not soft, it is not smooth. There are some of those textures to it, but the desert is more likely to be sharp, abrasive, to be cracked and worn. Sun, wind, water - these things shape the desert through attrition, and sudden calamity, both. The texture of distance is not the same as it is up close. Distance softens even the most fractured, angular forms; the closing of distance reveals that reality. Time too, participates in the deception. Movement is the passing of time, it blurs and rounds what we see. Stop, and time stands still with us, long enough for edges, some sharp others dull, to be revealed. In this way a simple fragment of stone, displaced thousands of years in the past, can take on both soft and sharp textures at the same moment.

The deserts' contrasts are not the sudden explosion of a seashore, nor as discerning as the mountains' treeline. They are more subtle, requiring an open mind and willingness to explore nuances, different ways of seeing and experiencing. The effort is worth it. 

I created a Flickr set of a few more photos from this most recent trip to Joshua Tree, should you be so inclined.