Our driving has been through desert after desert. Acrid open land with dots. Bushes, scrub, and Pinyon really, and then tumble weeds when wind or conditions demand. We’ve seen the dots of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and even Colorado. Now we drive South in search of warmth and to see more desert, yes, and more dots. If you’ve flown West, you’ve seen them. Hillsides are dotted, most have no forest, just dots. Bushes of many size and shape. The forests are at higher elevations and cling in valleys. If you’ve driven West you’ve seen the wind-blown tumble weeds trapped in barbed wire. Trying to reach the other side they gather on the fences.
But seriously the desert is alive. Very alive! Even the soils in many of these areas is a beautiful symbiosis of cyanobacteria, fungi, green and brown algae, lichens and mosses. We saw Cryptogamic soil in a variety of arid settings from Big Bend, Texas to Betatakin, in AZ. This fragile crust lives and stabilizes the soil itself. A protection against soil loss to the elements, erosion and wind. But just stepping on it disrupts this and can takes years to repair. Lesson; stay on the trail! Soil really is more valuable than gold. It supports our food chain. The dustbowls of midwest attest to the crucial part soils play. We also see, over and over, where water is life. Water makes a town. Water makes tourism. Water is food. Communities thrive near water and move when trouble comes or wells dry up. Lesson; conserve water. Really. We can’t believe people water grass back home. (and even the golf courses or hotel lawns out here!) Summer grass is meant to be dormant and a bit brown, grow less and allow you more time for Summer fun. Really.
The 1.6 MILLION-ACRE Mojave Preserve varies from about 800 feet elevation near Baker to a spine of mountains including 7929′ Clark Mountain. These features create at least 30 identifiable habitats. Moisture, elevation, wind, soil and sun exposure create such a variety. Pinyon Woodlands, Joshua Tree Woodlands, Cactus-Yucca Scrub, Desert Dunes, Creosote Bush Scrub and Desert Wash ranging from the higher elevations down create a surprising array.
Staying randomly at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground we were treated to some of this variety. We especially enjoyed the dirt road we followed leaving the park. We drove 30 or 40 miles of Mojave Desert dirt road and even saw a bicyclist entering the preserve alone there. The Western slopes were full of Joshua Trees. A fellow camper said there are more here than in Joshua Tree National Park.
We hiked a cool trail called the Rings Trail which carries you around a smaller mountain or butte, then up through a slot canyon of sorts.
There were no warning signs and just subtle NPS trail markers to follow “keeping the butte on your right all the way” as the ranger suggested.
The animal life too, is varied. Lizards, Mojave Rattlesnake, and the Colorado Sidewinder can be found (but mostly avoided by us). We saw the big eared Blacktail Jackrabbit, birds, Quail, and raptors, scat from fox or coyote. The kit fox is the size of a house cat, sure wish we’d seen one. The Desert Tortoise is a protected species out here. Brochures and signs suggest checking the shade under your car in Summer. Even the tortoise seek shade, but need your caution as you prepare to leave.
So yes, there are more than dots in the desert.