We don’t really know what to do with deserts. They just sit there, and we drive by them or fly over them or drop bombs on them. We feel a little uncomfortable, out of place in the heat and the desolation. They're lonely and unforgiving.

Three big deserts, huge geological works in-progress, spread out east of Los Angeles all the way to Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, and extend south deep into Mexico.

For certain climactic and esthetic reasons, Southern Californians mostly live on the coast, in Los Angeles and the beach towns, San Diego, Santa Barbara. I like the ocean. I like beach towns. I like sand-in-the-bikini kinds of days where you watch girls spreading tanning oil over smooth brown skin and all of that clandestine eroticism that takes place at the shore.

I get away to the middle of nothing, though, escape into desert, where pavement falls apart a mile or two from the interstate and you’re on your own, hoping you’ve brought along enough water and maybe food and a blanket or bag to crawl into if you get stuck with a flat tire or you bog down on a trail, get stuck in the sand. I stop the Jeep in the middle of a dusty road and turn off the engine to hear how hard the wind blows and to catch up on the calls of the ravens and the buzz of crickets and the hum of desert survival and the creatures who work this land for a living.

The burned out Joshua Trees and creosote turned crisp in a fire blackens rusty land and etches an outline against evening sky. Breeze crawls up the back of my neck, a puff of sound against my sleeve and the rush of a kestrel flying low along the brush. Jackrabbits stand at every corner, tall ears and long legs, scrambling for cover as I drive by. Lizards take to the rocks for shade and cool air, taking no time to cross the road in straight lines. Nobody is up here but me. No vehicles, no campers, no one hiking or driving or settled in with tents or shelters. It is barren, rough, untouched, pure. It’s mine.

I’ll see no one for close to two hours, no person, just a few houses a half-mile off the road, a few cows grazing, one that scrambles over some loose barbed wire she knows how to negotiate.

Get gas in Ludlow, the girl at the Mojave Preserve office in Barstow advised. Stay away from Essex, she said, you’ll pay $5.59. Wild Horse Canyon is beautiful, she says, changing colors and decent roads, some sandy spots but the Jeep will handle it fine. I get to Hole in The Wall an hour and a half later, a campground and visitor center compound with an equestrian camp. The Ranger’s Tahoe is parked at the visitor center but it’s closed and no one comes out to greet me. It’s after four-thirty, the sun’s dropping in the west, still enough light for a cruise up to the Mid Hills camp and around back the long way to Essex.

Two hundred yards back down the road Wild Horse Canyon road turns up into a dirt trail that crosses a couple of cow catchers painted turquoise and a small enclave with a windmill spinning in the breeze. A raven flushes on my left and flies low through a hollow for a while, guiding me up the grade until he finishes his duty, pulls up into a perch and I continue past the wash and up towards the crest. Burnt brush, sage and creosote and Joshua have a crust of fire and the survival instinct of something that has been through worse. A daily battle with harsh elements of extreme heat and thirst and dry wind will fossilize some, and who will hold them one day? Say here, there was a tree, a bush, some pre-historic remnant that one day was prescient on this vast plain? Who will come, look back on where I was today, alone on this empty plateau, wandering like some newborn thing searching the desert for a new way to see? And what did I see?

I saw the earth, unfinished, raw, empty.

The breeze kicked up and the sun slanted in against piles of granite and fine grain of sand. The dry air, drawn in across the scrapings of geologic time. I saw the earth, working itself, becoming. And full of life.

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