Falling in Love with the Desert

The wind rocked my car with sudden gusts that threatened to push us into the ditch. Jeff looked at me sideways and I gripped the steering wheel tighter. Tumbleweeds flew across Highway 14 as we headed to the Owens Basin for another one of Jeff’s wilderness survival trainings.

I don’t like camping in ubiquitous, intermittent howling wind. It jolts my senses, like violent hiccups.

Dark clouds threatened rain on top of wind. But around the next bend, there was a rainbow. Patience, frustration tolerance, trust, acceptance, and increased alertness are the byproducts, if not latent character building goals, of wilderness adventures.  In truth, Jeff sought a project that would cast him out of the OC bubble where the civilized world offers an illusion of safety. He wanted to find out if he could be alone with cacti, dirt, snow covered mountains and feel peace and inner strength rather than a frantic need for four walls and a roof over his head. Where does he get these wild ideas??

The wind died down as we reached Lone Pine.  We donned down jackets for the walk at the base of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. Jeep asked Jeff to build a fire with his flint and show him the north direction. Jeff used his compass to confirm his guess and was pretty darn close. After dinner we found a sneak spot to sleep for the night and took a rambling stroll to see if Jeff could find his way back to camp in the dark.

After brushing frost off our bags (nighttime temp dipped to 28 degrees). The next morning we ate sandwiches at Raymond’s Deli in Bishop and admired Galen Rowell’s breath taking photography at the Mountain Light Gallery. I love to read the unique combinations of luck, patience and skill used to capture the images in the most beautiful places in the world.

We drove up the Whitney Portal and watched as a storm rolled in over the backside of the Sierras in great billowing clouds, indicating that a blizzard had consumed the mountain in less than half an hour, probably dropping the temperature by 20 degrees or more.

Of all the places to get my “chi” the desert and it’s seemingly unfriendliness has always been at the bottom of my list. I thought it barren and inhospitable. In reality, the desert teams with life. And that mountain blizzard is just cold. There is nothing personal in it. And I can be okay with nature not behaving like a doting mother and still I feel love and connectivity.

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