Desert Romance


It’s good for what ails you, whether you’re tired, burned out, uninspired, or just plain cold.

For a beautiful summary of the short trip, check out this post written by my lovely roommate and co-adventurer. We had been looking forward to this quick little trip for months, and everything turned out just right.

So, since you already have a perfectly delightful description of the trip and probably don’t need another, I’m going to talk about the desert.

When I first came to Utah from Seattle, I didn’t appreciate the desert. Sure, I thought it was pretty in a stark, barren, better-in-pictures-than-in-person kind of way, but my idea of natural beauty involved evergreens and rocky beaches, not scrubby bushes and hot sandstone.

Over five years here, though, I’ve gotten to know the desert. I’ve hiked over its slick rock domes, climbed on its walls and towers, found its fine red sand in my socks and between my toes, and slept under its unfathomably deep and starry sky.

I read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and started looking for the rocks and plants that he describes in such loving detail, feeling the marvelous bumps and curves of their names in my head as I walk along looking at the ground:

Chalcedony, blackbrush, carnelian. Spanish bayonet, jasper, singleleaf ash.

Juniper and chrysoprase. Agate and pinyon pine.


(I’m still not very good at recognizing them in person, but I do love the Moab Rock Shop, where all the pretty stones and fossils are laid out on a table and neatly labeled. )

The most important change, though, was that I found people I love and admire who love and admire the desert, and their steady, intense fascination with it has, over the years, made a deep impression on me.

And while I still can’t say I feel comfortable or at home in the desert, I will say this:

The desert has a special way of filling your mind and heart with quiet.

It’s peaceful — overwhelmingly, inescapably, and forcefully so. The vastness of the landscape and the heat of the sun press on your body from all sides until they find their way into the restless, jittery parts of you and make them still, like smoke filling a beehive.

I can walk, climb, or drive all day through the desert without noticing what it’s doing to me, but by evening, when the sun first begins to set, it always hits me like a drug.

I take in the immensity around me, and every part of me feels warm and slow, until the only thing that makes sense is to sit on the nearest boulder and feel the drowsy pleasure of soaking in the color and warmth of the desert all day.

It’s the ultimate experience of quiet. Centuries of life and heat and movement displayed in perfect stillness.

Coming back to the city after even a single day in the desert is always a little strange — a bit of a relief, a bit of a loss — but every time I put away my hiking boots, crusted with red mud, I realize how much I already want to go back.

It took five years, but I’ve fallen in love with the desert, and only now can I begin to understand it.

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Originally published at on March 24, 2016.

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