The Desert Changed My Life. It Can Change Yours, Too.

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On a frigid March morning in 2022, a friend and I were visiting the Mojave National Preserve in California’s San Bernardino County. Joshua trees, normally crooked and whimsical with spiky green leaves, were instead blanched white and charred, limbs swinging in 25-mile-per-hour winds. Creosote bushes, blackbrush, and yucca — all of which were once shelter or food for jackrabbits, night lizards and ground squirrels — had also been scorched. In August 2020, the Dome Fire burned more than a million Joshua trees alone, leaving skeletal remains of what had been a dense woodland.

We were there to help replant Joshua trees. To the south rose Cima Dome, the gentle granite hill for which the fire was named. Gradually shifting landscapes are characteristic of the Mojave Desert, where hard-packed dirt gives way to low-lying springs and sandy washes. These shifts are difficult to see unless you look closely, but since living here, the desert has taught me the art of perception: how to slow down and actually see what’s in front of you.

I grew up in a suburb just outside San Diego County, 90 minutes from the Mojave Desert. But my parents preferred taking our family to the Pacific Coast and the redwoods up north — California’s canonical landscapes. If we entered the Mojave, it was usually just to pass through. As a result, I thought deserts were flat and barren. Official definitions confirmed my ideas. The United States Geological Survey defines American deserts as “areas of the country which receive less than 10 inches (250 millimeters) of annual precipitation.”


https://static01.nyt.com/images/2022/11/20/magazine/20mag-lor/20mag-lor-superJumbo.jpg?quality=75&auto=webpJohn Francis Peters for The New York Times



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