Tag Archive 'American Southwest'

Jul 08 2022

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Two Completely Different Landscapes

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Last month, towards the end of a big trip out West, I hiked in the Mojave Desert with my friend Bill Weiss. We went into Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California to be specific. We left his Jeep at the end of a dirt road and hiked to Queen Mountain before sunrise – before the sun had a chance to really heat things up. We wore jackets to protect ourselves from a strong, dry wind that threatened to strip the moisture from our bodies. The air temperature was in the 70s when we started, and in the 80s when we finished our hike a few hours later.

A fine dust covered the ground, along with rocks of all sizes. There was no sign of water anywhere. Yucca, creosote and cactus plants arose from the arid landscape. They sported all kinds of needles and other hard, sharp edges. As Bill pointed out, desert plants have attitude.

When the sun rose, I was awestruck by the beauty of this wide-open country. The mountains in the distance were awash in pastel colors, and the folds in the ground closer to us cast long shadows as did the vegetation. Oh, but that blinding orb shined relentlessly once it finally showed itself. We stripped off our jackets and tipped the bills of our hats down over our eyes as we hiked out. We sucked down precious water from our bottles. Dust mixed with the sweat and sunscreen on my exposed forearms. In the desert there is no place to hide from that blazing sun. We were glad to be back indoors later on that day, when temps spiked over 100 degrees.

Yesterday I hiked up Mount Abraham in central Vermont. Temps were in the 60s when I started and in the low 70s when I finished. Nice and cool, especially under the cover of trees, but I sweated the entire time anyway. The forest was damp, very damp, after weeks of considerable rain. There was water running everywhere, and the trail was all roots and rocks and mud puddles. From the top of the mountain, I marveled at the Green Mountains rolling away to the south beneath billowing clouds. A thick haze covered the Champlain Valley to the west, due to high humidity. The sun peaked occasionally from the clouds. The wind blew but it was more comforting than threatening as it usually is this time of year. The wind in the middle of winter, well, that’s another story.

The desert has its charms, but I’m a creature of the forest. I like having that canopy overhead and feel quite comfortable in the endlessly green understory. Granted, it’s a lot easier to get lost in the woods than it is in the open desert, but I always manage to find my way home. And I don’t like being very far away from water. Others don’t mind it, though. To each his/her own, I suppose.

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