The planes come and go almost all the time. They only stop between midnight and five a.m. They pass in radial arcs to and from wildly different places, all slicing though the air much too fast to see much of anything except a seemingly barren desert wasteland below them.
We’re in the wasteland below. It’s hardly barren but it is laid bare—it begs to be looked at up close. In the wash where we’re parked—Grand Wash— there’s abundant life: mesquite, bees, ravens, coyote squash, coyote print. The scale is massive; the wash is wider than the widest freeway I’ve ever seen. It’s an architecture of torrential flow from the Colorado Plateau into the Mojave Desert.
It’s been raining this morning. If the rain keeps up for too long, the clay in the roads will stick to our tires and keep us here. That would be ok, as long as we have enough water to wait it out.
Here in the Grand Wash, a few miles from the northern shore of Lake Mead, we’re trying to create a new trip for ourselves. Our original plans were abandoned when we found out that gas was in short supply in Baja. We turned around south of Needles, California and headed back north. Just as we began to shed layers, to release into warmth and simplicity, we were thrust back into colder climes and the reminder of the moving, frenetic world out there.
We skirted the edge of Las Vegas, preferring to pay $20 to follow empty desert roads along Lake Mead than pass through the commotion of the city.
We found a place that looked unvisited on the map. We bumped along 45 miles of cobble and sand and lava rock to the end of a road—to here.
The jets keep passing over. Now that I’ve given them my attention they pull me skyward each time encouraging me to skim over this place, to lose my tethering, to exist in some other place, doing something else.
We work to find grounding. We walk the wash in the departure of the day and whiff the pungency of earth—the moisture held in soft, red pigment. It smells like the sea’s breath. Texture is abundant: shells are in the sand; seeds are in the clay; footprints appear as faint dimples; edges are defined by shadow. This animate life is thrilling—it lopes in unbidden when we do not try to corral it.
The jets fly, the rain falls, and we let ourselves write and read and occupy the only time we can. Later, we’ll head for the cliffs and see if we can find a forgotten canyon. We’ll identify all the cactus we know—barrel, beaver’s tail, and buckhorn cholla. We’ll look for water. After the rain it must be held somewhere in a cupped depression of sandstone.