Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where the Road Ends

After working for three hours in the coffee shop in the next town over, I mostly drove today. I'm still absorbing my surroundings.

Armed with a GPS and a few Google Maps printouts, I felt brave enough to drive down roads until they just ended at the desert. So I would have to turn left or right to stay in civilization, but I could see the tire tracks from those before me who have kept going.

When I first arrived at The Desert Lily in February, the dirt road up the Joshua Tree Highlands seemed impassable in my compact rental car. But I, too, had to keep going, even though it looked as though the road were ending. Now I lumber up and down Rincon Road at breakneck speed, ready to jettison myself out of the driver's seat at any moment.

Thousand Palms OasisTo be honest, no matter how cocky I get, it is dangerous in the desert. When you drive, signs warn you of all sorts of perils, from flash floods to tortoises to gusty winds, blowing sand and unexploded missiles (!), not to mention all the chipmunks and roadrunners and lizards crossing the street. But you have to keep driving, whatever you do, even if you slow down for the little guys, just keep driving. You don't want to stop, out there in the middle of nowhere, if the road keeps on.

And then sometimes you have to know when to stop, when continuing on will endanger the wilderness, endanger your life, or get you maimed or arrested. I took a relatively easy hike today in the Paul Wilhelm Grove at Thousand Palms Oasis, but a swarm of bees stopped me in my tracks. I had to turn around and go back. And then I had to tell myself that that was OK, and take a hike down another short trail.

As I watch a jack rabbit nibbling its dinner off a nearby bush, a lizard doing push-ups on the gravel beside me, and a wasp buzzing behind my head, I'm not sure where my road will end or even what road I'm on right now. Whether I keep going straight or eventually have to turn right or left, I know that I will not turn back.

For another account of today's drive, click here.