The Gold Mine in the Desert

Who would think a field trip to the desert with a bunch of hormone-charged pre-teens could be so much fun? But being the chaperon on my kid’s 6th grade field trip to the Mojave Desert was a blast! Violent upheavals and dramatic shifts caused some of the amazing geological formations we saw, like Hole in the Wall, Kelso Sand Dunes, Amboy Crater and the Lava Tubes. We walked over solid lava, admired petroglyphs and beautiful desert flowers, and listened to the deep resonant hum of sand avalanches.

At first when some look at the desert’s harshness, they see nothing but a wasteland, or as former Governor Schwarzenegger said, “Some people look out in the deserts and just see empty space. I see a gold mine.” This oversight of the desert’s inherent beauty is why the Desert Tortoise and Golden Eagle are in immediate peril. Solar farms and wind turbines will soon cover the Mojave in a desperate attempt to give southern Californians the energy we need to live our lives without hindrance or inconvenience. Sadly these sources are often only 17% efficient – losing much of what they generate in the transference. Meanwhile, this amazing landscape will be desecrated for the creatures who call it home.

Not sure if that’s “just part of life on earth.”

Since the desert is a beautiful place to see the diamonds in the sky, I called my friend Stargazer Li to show us her magic. Using a laser (that shines 20 miles!) she pointed out the six constellations that make up the Winter Hexagon or the Sacred Hoop as the Lakota call it. Most kids knew Orion by his belt, but had never noticed his great shield (or bow) aimed at Taurus the Bull. Taurus’ horns reach to Auriza, the Charioteer who holds Capella, the She-Goat. Counter-clockwise upward, is the Gemini constellation, with one sassy boot and one twin bow-legged. Next is Canis Minor, the little dog or “hot dog.” And below is Canis Major, the Big Dog at Orion’s heel, ready for the hunt.

In the afternoons, I sneaked away to my tent on the top of a knoll and read Tiger’s Wife with the flaps wide open to the exquisite scent of the desert and the cool spring breezes. I took a nap, woke up and later enjoyed a s’more.

Yep, the desert is a gold mine, just not the kind you take to the bank. It’s the treasure that stays in your heart and frees your spirit.

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Aldo Leopold.

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