Saturday, November 20, 2010

Desert Life

The amount of activity in the desert is remarkable. People insist I should be firstly scared and secondly bored by walking alone through the desert. They just don't understand it. While it's a little off-putting to walk for six, seven, eight hours or more without ever seeing a sign of humanity except for the distant high tension lines that link Juarez with Chihuahua, a lot is happening in the desert that neither bores me nor frightens me.

There's a surprising variety of vegetation. At times, there are naked sand dunes with only a few sticks of vegetation poking out here and there. Other times, the dunes are covered with scrappy, prickly ground cover. Large pads of cactus grow tall or broad but never both. Within a short distance, there will suddenly be a veritible forest of scruffy, prickly saltcedar bushes that hold the dunes in place. Everywhere except in the denuded sand dune areas, big balls of rabbit sage hold onto the sand by one small stem, like the knot in a balloon.

The desert is strongly animated, too. Most entertaining are the sudden dust devils that spout up instantaneously with a puff of wind. The sand is whipped into a mini funnel cloud that races for some irratic distance setting aloft a handful of tumbleweeds that bounce in the air above the dust like beach balls above the fans at a rock concert. The windburst ends and the tumbleweeds fall to the ground in a few bounces. Within minutes, it seems, another dust devil whips itself into life somewhere else in the forward perifery.

Animals abound even in the heat of the day. Hares and jack rabbits are most common, but it's fun to see the fat ears of a desert fox bouncing above the dried grasses blowing in the breeze. Coyotes, as well, but they always stop and stare at me in a rather suspicious way until I pass. As much as people keep insistig that the snakes are all gone for the season, every day I see rattlesnakes, though they're not threatening in any way.

While the snakes are silent, there are a half a dozen different bird calls audible often. The sandhill cranes still follow me, invisibly flying above with their noisy squalk draw my attention upward.

As I head southward, the knee-high grasses more frequently erupt around watering holes fed by wind-operated groundwater wells. Consequently, cattle and horses often punctuate that horizon. The cattle vocalize their opinion of my intrusion but the horses are always curious and gallop in broad circles around me, whinnying playfully. That's a beautiful sight.

I'm not so suited for the desert climate, but it's enjoyable to walk through and really get to experience it up close and personally.