I’m sitting in my van outside Kanab, Utah, USA, being pummeled by 30-50mph winds from the SSW… storms coming. I’ve been driving only an hour or so but it’s been a constant two handed battle against the wind. We choose to find the shelter of a grove of pinion and juniper down a well worn red dirt road off Rte 89.
We can’t go outside, the fine silt of red rock desert gets into everything… even if closed. Within a minute you’re seeking shelter as your eyes feel as if they are wrapped in wool. Another gust and a burst of red sand whips across the dirt road and into the side of the van. It’s just impossible to do anything so what better time to decompress.
Part One: The Landscape
I look outside the window of the van to a familiar yet foreign landscape from the desert of Baja California and Sur, let’s just call it “the Baja”. The greens, although vibrant, seemed muted in some way. The alien foliage and fauna of the Baja became like wandering through a page of a Dr Seuss book. The odd shapes and contorted tress, the giant cacti that made travel off road dangerous. One of my favorites is the giant Cardon Cactus, which was blooming when we left. I was told it only blooms at night and attracts bats to is succulent nectar. They fly to the flower, a large white multi petal flower that protrudes off the body of the main cactus, on a soft green, fruit like bulge, and the bats drink till they literally fall away as if drunk on its nectar.
The desert in the Baja was coming to life even under the cloudless skies. The plants have adapted to this unforgiving landscape and put forth a spectacular sense overload of heavy sweetness from the most delicate of flowers. Again, these small delicate flowers are also a feast for the birds and the bees. They buzz and flit and fly in and out of the trees and flowers, some looking for the flowers and others, those the flowers entice. In such a harsh environment the whole place thrives.
The sky, well the sky definitely rivals any cloudless high Rocky Mountain summer day. The key word is cloudless. The sun shines brightly 365 days a year. The humidity rises quickly through the day near the ground, only to be heated up, creating well placed clouds that create the most enchanting sunsets. These vibrant sunsets can turn the entire bluish green sea, into the most beautiful pink and golds. The sky and sea become one without a horizon.
The mountain ranges, always visible from any location on The Baja, are the work of some amazing artist. The newly formed peninsula, by a geological time frame, has the most diverse mountain ranges of anywhere I’ve ever seen in such a short relative distance. The bed of the ancient sea was thrust up by tectonic activity, pushing with it all manor of fossils and bones. The huge sea creatures that became entombed over eons now exposed in the rock slides of the ancient sea floor as it tumbles hundreds of feet and is exposed by the elements.
Some mountains bear the scars of mining, big corporate and small village operated co-ops. Others soar to the highest of heights and seem impenetrable. These lofty giants can catch entire weather systems and wring it out on one side or the other. The great arroyos are testament to the power and ferocity of these rains.
Further south, in Baja California Sur, there is evidence of volcanic activity. These beautifully sculpted mountains are verdant green from the constant humidity of this region of the peninsula. They have hidden entire stone Catholic missions and preserved ancient cave paintings from indigenous tribes of Cucupas and Puipui.
The sand on the southern beaches are softer and the seas range from a kite surfers dream, a surfers haven, a wave lovers and thrill seekers dream… to the calm blue green waters of The Sea of Cortez and Bay of California attracting lovers and fishermen, tourist and drug runners. The Sea pours into the Pacific and the two become undistinguishable.
My mind can still see all this clearly. Our two months exploring the Baja has waken a sleeping dragon, sparked creativity and created a deep spiritual connection with the very essence of this strip of land. Life here is an intricately choreographed dance of life and death and rebirth/rediscovery.
I focus my eyes back outside the van as a gust of wind shakes us and whistles through any space it can find. The beauty of this red rock desert, speckled with sage brush, tall lodge pole pines, stunted cedar, pinion and juniper, brings me back in touch with my love of the deserts of southern Utah.