We’ve just returned from a walk down desert washes: one 5-10’ wide and the other more like 50’ except when it turned into braids winding between juniper and acacia, yucca and cholla, and others nameless (by me) and looking wistful for the barely remembered feel of water coursing by. Although I’ve been present when good rains fell my timing has been bad as far as seeing the washes fulfilling their role, a sight I greatly wish for. I remember as a child seeing creeks rise in west Texas and the miracle of it is still with me. In the absence of a trail, these dry washes are an excellent way to get around. Today I just wanted to move slowly, see closely, and sit quietly during the middle of the walk. I saw no birds but yesterday old friends from Organ Pipe were along the trail, the phainopepla and desert wren. Also a pair of ravens atop a boulder looking very much like lovers caught making out. Beak to beak sharing something and startled to see me; one of them moved a few feet away as if embarrassed to have been caught.
I have always appreciated trails. They are the best way to get where I want to go without getting lost, and in high visitation areas they channel hikers and protect the surrounding topography. But some hikers don’t like them, see them as restrictions. I met a woman once at a water spot who said she never used them, always bushwhacked as the spirit moved her. She felt this allowed for more surprises and was probably right. But I appreciate their efficiency and no matter how many times I’ve walked a trail, back and forth, have never felt deprived of pleasing sights. Some say they consider getting lost an opportunity to see unexpected places, but to me they’re a delay, which I’m embarrassed to acknowledge. I’m never in a hurry and all sights are good sights, so why not relax into the adventure of figuring out where the hell I am on the rare occasions when I lose the trail. No defense: I’m just too regulated a man and feel, irrationally, that my plans have been disrupted. I’m the same way when in an unfamiliar city; I want a map (not GPS) and will plot out a route. As with bushwhackers on the mountain, some people I’ve known eschew both map and GPS and just move vaguely in the desired direction figuring they’ll get to know the city best in an unstructured way and eventually arrive at their goal. I respect both urban and country wanderers of this sort but will never be one of them. I remember, as I talk about this, the times I’ve hiked in backcountry where there were no trails to speak of and the relief I sometimes felt when coming on one made by deer or free-range cattle. I assumed they were smarter than I was about getting through the trackless chaparral or forest and followed their lead. It didn’t necessarily get me where I wanted to be, but I was always a step ahead of where I’d been.
The desert comes alive as dawn begins to break…
Image courtesy of Joshua Tree National Preserve