Ride the Desert Mystery
The desert has its own mysterious draw. There seem to be as many reasons for a journey through the desert as there are people, evident in the colors of the faces, of which there are as many as there are colors in the sand. The landscape is vast and varied, infinitely reminding the mind that its assumptions about what the desert is and isn’t are often mistaken. A journey through the desert is humbling, surprising, inspiring, awesome and tiring.
Sometimes the exhaustion of the heat and the infinite eye-scape lulls you into a peace that all men and women, known or unknown to themselves, seek. The road carries all walks and rolls, from lone jalopies and Lamborghinis to fleets of Porsches and Harleys. We saw a man riding a motorcycle he carefully pieces together in the image of the endless road warrior, a grand mask for a gentle soul, who likely holds open doors, calls men “sir” and ladies “ma’am.” The desert is a land full of fantasy, rewarding curiosity.
Paul and I are driving across the country, from San Francisco to West Virginia. We’re on a road trip through many mysteries to make it to Oak Hill, WV for Mother’s Day. As we set out on our journey, I’m excited and anxious at the same time. We haven’t planned or researched much. We’ve set an open route along some highways to make a family gathering on time. What we see and do is up to our casual observations and explorations. I remember the desert as being beautiful, large and full of the unexpected. I wonder, what will it be that I see.
We’ve spent our first night at a motel in Bakersfield, which was an exercise in patience, like doing some dreaded activity in 4th grade gym in front of a 100 children and teachers. We still have Starbucks, and a morning latte brightens my intrepid and faithful spirit. We take Route 178 headed East and mere moments out of Bakersfield, the expansive and resplendent view of a sparkling valley and hills opens in front of us. Indeed, after darkness there is light! Route 178, slender and winding, meanders through the lush Kearn River Valley. A rapid-filled river runs through it, and as I watch I dream of rafting and wading in the cool cold water. The water moves fast and I’m moving slow, so I let my dreams of coolness keep dreaming. I have the feeling that this landscape of cool beauty will remain until I am ready to enter it, until it is gone, and we are in the hard open desert again. There are miles of straight nothingness on the road with no reason to wonder or wander. I have yet to be enchanted by the subtleties of rocks.
Route 178 East leads us to US 395 North. It is at this turning point that Paul asks me, “Are you sure you want to drive across the country? It’s not too late to drive back to San Francisco and fly.” I’m not a fan of going backward, not because I’m superstitious, rather because I find it an impossibility. “Sure.” I say, with little enthusiasm. “I know there’s something out there. I’m just not feeling it right now.” “Are you just feeling poopie?” he asks. “That’s right, boo boo.” I reply. Road trips have a knack for birthing nicknames and ours found us, poopie and boo boo. They kept us good company when a lighthearted laugh at ourselves kept the road open for grace in our adventure.
Continuing on US 395 North, just outside of Little Lake California, we pass a small green sign that reads Fossil Falls. The sand has momentarily changed from brown to a deep sparkling red. Both catch my eye. Poopie is frustrated by boo boo’s patient, quiet driving. You’d think we were prehistoric man who’d yet to discover an already burning fire, that unknown and essential thing called the iPod for the road. Poopie says, “I guess you don’t want to see Fossil Falls.” “What?” I wonder if I’m the only woman that expects my man to read my mind. Of course I expect him to know that means take me there. To him, that just means, “What?” It takes him a mile and half to decode, until a turn out, turn about and then a turn up a gravel road to a parking lot with a trailhead.
That’s where I saw my first desert flowers. Have you ever seen the desert in bloom? I imagine there have been songs written about her, though I’ve never heard them. Perhaps because her sacredness is too precious to pass through the lips of man. Perhaps because it is fleeting, and speaking it takes away the quiet intimacy of being nothing more than its witness. I wish I had the words to tell you, it is pure magic to see flowers bloom out of ancient lava rock, amidst the dry heat and emptiness. It is pure magic.
We walk a mile long trail through hard and porous rocks, resembling garden vignettes. I wear flip flops, a long black dress and a large tan sunhat. As I walk through the desert, I am my own mirage. Paul takes pictures, for which I am grateful. He is forever the artist, having the courage to allow images to pass through his lens, even when he’s not sure they’re really there.
The craggy rocks shift to smooth and just like that, with a blink and a step, we are in Fossil Falls. The pictures of the place say more than words. We are amazed, like a young man’s first time discovery of a woman’s hips. They undulate, feeling smooth, soft and hard, awesome and mysterious, making you feel still and want to move at the same time. Like bringing a girl flowers, come prepared for your date. I suggest you wear sticky-soled shoes that let you play and explore the curviness of this lovely lady. It gets hot and sunny. Bring your hat, sunblock, a camera and a smile. It’s a fine place to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sun set or the sun rise.
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