A Desert Valentine

A Day in the Desert

Text by Marcia Harward

Friday, February 13th. For the superstitious it's a day of bad luck, but I'm not of that kind. The day started out with a stroke of good luck. Before leaving for work I found my presumed-lost credit card and driver's license. I knew then that it was going to be a great day despite the clouds that loomed dark and ominous. After eyeballing the weather pattern all week and hearing words like, "cloudy," "rain," and "unstable winds," we weren't sure if our plan for a desert jaunt was the best idea that we had ever come up with. "Unstable winds" brought a rush of memories from our last trip when the wind leveled everything at our camp site.

At 1:30 I came home from work absolutely exhausted. The van was packed and ready to go, but those clouds were dark and rolling east -- the same direction we were headed. I almost bailed out for a split second, but then my desire for the desert outweighed my second thoughts. We were going no matter what...rain or no rain, stable or unstable winds.

We were amazed and pleasantly surprised when we reached the summit of the mountains and saw nothing but clear, blue skies on the other side. The mountains had kept those ominous clouds at bay. The thought ran through my mind, "What a lucky day this has been!"

We exited at Ocotillo and picked up S2 for about 15 minutes until we found our turnoff. By the time we snaked our way back to our favorite spot, it was 4:00, and the sun had already dipped behind one of the peaks. We knew we had about two hours of shade-time before dusk set in. We set up our camp...tent, tarp, fire ring, kitchen, coolers, chairs, tables and lanterns. How lucky we were to be in the desert instead of in San Diego under all of those wet clouds!

As night fell, the stars came out in force! They put on a dazzling display for us. Lying on our chaise lounge chairs, gazing at the stars, chatting with my husband Jim, and catching a whiff of the occasional burst of eucalyptus oil from our "eucy" logs, I could feel the tension and stress evaporate. It was as if the desert had sucked it up and dispersed it in its open vastness. Ah, what peace and contentedness!

Although I couldn't feel it, I could see evidence of the earth's rotation...constellations slowly slipping away giving way to the eventual moonrise. It peeked over the mountain around 9:15 ... just past full. I kept thinking of the song I had heard on the radio on our drive out by CCR, "I see a bad moon arising..." But since we had lucked out the whole day, poetic license took over..."I see a good moon arising..." Eventually we fell asleep by the fire and dreamt about botanizing the next day.

Saturday, February 14th. Valentine's Day greeted us with wind and gray clouds. Regardless we put on our gear, grabbed our Audubon desert guide and set out exploring. I thought about the city people buying roses for their beloved. I was much luckier...the desert was a giant vase...clumps of bright yellow flowers here...purple flowers over there...red ones to the right...orange ones to the left...and tiny white ones straight ahead.

As we scoped out the desert, it looked dead and lifeless from a distance, but up close it was alive! Birds were screaming for rain...bees and butterflies flitted about doing their pollinating thing. Bugs and insects were creeping, crawling and jumping around. We walked along the wash and were amazed at how much it resembled a modern, man-made, groomed path in places, a veritable super highway through the desert. It is obvious why early explorers often followed these washes as they made their way through this land of thorny plants. It started to sprinkle...then drizzle. The sun poked through the clouds and created a beautiful rainbow that was visible for more than 30 minutes! Who says rain is a bad thing?!

A desert wash

As I prepared dinner, I once again thought of the city people scurrying around like desert rodents as they made dinner reservations at restaurants, got gussied up, fought traffic and rain and stood in line. I smiled to myself as I grilled our steaks over the fire. Our setting was romantic in its own right...melt in your mouth grub, engaging conversation by the fireside and a desert full of bloom. I wouldn't have traded places with any of the city people for anything! The rain continued, in fact, it down right poured. But it didn't bother us, we were warm and dry and had each other. A coffee cup we had placed outside gathered about an inch of rain that night.

Sunday, February 15th. Again, we woke up to clouds and drizzle. It was time to go; our Valentine get away was over. But by the time we packed up and drove away from our magical, spot the sun was peeking out and it sent us off with another beautiful sunset that was even more stunning and brilliant than the one the day before.

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