As I drive down the lone dusty desert dirt road leading to one of the desert shores of America's oldest lake, bright yellow wildflowers squeeze the sides of my car and the sound of gravel crunches beneath my wheels. The windows are down, and a crisp, warm breeze fills my lungs. Arriving at the empty parking area at the end of the road, I am immediately struck by the emptiness and silence of the place. I am alone here.
Retrieving my gear from the trunk, I set out across the sand down what appears for a short while to be a human trail into the desert. The footprints soon disappear, and I find myself walking across surprisingly firm, clean sand towards a massive and diverse array of intricate sand structures that stretch forth seemingly endlessly before me.
As I tiptoe around the fragile formations, I watch every step to ensure I don't accidentally brush one with my foot and break it. Many are as small as nine inches tall, and it is clear they had formed over thousands of years. I couldn't possibly have more respect or admiration for this desolate place. This is a perplexing area to visit. On one extreme, I've never felt so unwelcome in my life. The area screams of its sensitivity to human presence. I sense that even a single misstep could irrevocably destroy thousands of years of natural artwork, or ruin some fragile creature's native habitat. On the other extreme, this place is intensely welcoming in its soft, warm, peaceful solace. So much so that I couldn't help but lie down right on the sand and stretch out beneath the sky to just breathe and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this incredible environment. I could stay here for ever, letting a world rich with vanity and artifice yet so devoid of perspective and place continue on without me. But loved ones are waiting, and there is also much good in the world, so alas I cannot stay for too long.
A few minutes later, I'm up and exploring again. The blind rise of another sensuous sand dune is calling my name, it's curves draped in bright sunflower yellow flora, another stretch of unexplored desert beckoning from the other side.
As I wander alone in silence through the desert, startlingly large jackrabbits and numerous desert hares frolic about in the scrub, peering at me through the bushes, nervous of this strange newcomer to their wonderland.
A few hours later, the sun has begun to set, igniting the clouds above in strikingly vivid hues of orange and pink, with the desert shores slipping into understated shades of violet and blue. My friends the sand formations are silhouettes now, framing the light show in the sky as though they were the pillars propping it up. The sun finally slips below the majestic mountains across the lake, and the light show fades out, giving way to the light of the full moon and the brilliant spectacle of the milky way over the desert.
Reluctantly, I make my way back to my car, and as I drive out across the desert once again, my headlights are greeted with the nocturnal dance of bats and birds and bugs swooping about in the night sky. My mind drifts, and already I know I cannot wait long to return to this special place.
And that Jackrabbit? It was the size of a coyote.