Summertime in the low desert of the American Southwest can be brutal to the point of deadly. Temperatures soar well into the hundreds, and highways, though improved from the days of my youth, provide no great sense of security to those in the know. The landscape is still sparse and rest stops are few and far-flung.

I remember all too well cruising along the roller coaster single-lane road east of Desert Center while feeling my parents’ rising tide of panic as the radiator steamed dry.

Seven kids cranky from being packed into the station wagon and blistering heat on asphalt, paused by the side of the road to guzzle Squirt from glass bottles. Dad and brother John’s instructions on swallowing large volumes of air to expel in long, resonant belches. Racing to capture horny toads or gopher snakes. Nostrils burning from parched dry air. The perennial lack of air conditioning in these extreme temperatures. And the endless promise of water in the desert mirage.

It was a miracle that we returned, time and again, to savor the extraordinary beauty that such places undeniably held.

Nights are the reward for those willing to risk heat stroke just to trek far enough off the highway to experience their wonder, unimpeded by the lights of any manner of civilization. For it is here that one beholds billions of brilliant luminaries close-up against an inky night sky. The only visual impediment are legions of bats swooping low enough to touch, while stars shoot and arc across the heavens. Soft breezes coupled with the still-radiant heat of daytime seep into bones through toasty sands, securing peace in slumber and a lifetime of incomparable memories.
And while Spring in that part of the world is a riot of color and smells in an otherwise stark landscape – ocotillo and barrel cactus in bloom, yucca exploding into creamy blossoms, the pungent odor of rain hitting creosote bush – the chance encounter with a prairie rattler baking itself lazily in the noonday heat and the otherworldly scream of a mountain lion notwithstanding – I would risk the danger and solitude of another spate of 120 degree days just to experience that timbre of nightfall, once again.
image: barrel cactus in bloom: anzaborrego.net


2 thoughts on “Mirage

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