Sunday, June 2, 2013

Enchanting Desert Nights

Nothing is more enchanting than the desert.

From its jagged canyons carved by ancient waters and crustal upheavals, to the delicate springtime wildflowers carpeting the valley floor with color;  from the magnificent borrego—the big-horn sheep—that populate our rugged and beautiful mountains, to the pungent enthralling scent of creosote leaves after a welcome desert rain.

Ours is, indeed, one of the most glorious and intriguing lands on Earth.  Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors explore and enjoy its wonders, yet most miss the desert at its most enchanting… the desert at night.

How many have ever hiked in the cool night air as silvery moonlight glistens from canyon walls and distant mountains, or listened as coyotes yelp playfully in the stillness while, overhead, the shimmering Milky Way arches majestically across our sky?

And how many have risen before the sun to greet a new day on our part of planet Earth—to watch as the glittering stars fade one by one into a palette of light and color that no artist, writer or photographer could ever capture?

From few places on Earth do the starry heavens shine as superbly as over Southern California's Anza-Borrego Desert.   But only those who venture out after dark will ever experience its wonder.

Most stunning, perhaps, is the sheer number of stars we see on a clear, dark night—stars of many different brightnesses and shades of color—woven by ancient desert dwellers into such celestial patterns as a scorpion, an eagle and a lizard.  We can see them too with only a basic star map, some imagination, and a little effort.

Among the fixed stars wander other lights—the planets—which shine more brilliantly in the clear desert air than almost any other place on Earth.  Five were known to our ancestors—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—and all grace our skies from time to time.

After even a short time under a dark desert sky you’ll most likely glimpse one of those thrilling sights upon which we often make a wish—a falling star—sometimes so brilliant that even the land around you glows to celebrate its appearance.

Perhaps the most wonderful of all companions on a nighttime desert hike is the moon.  During the month its shape evolves from a delicate crescent to a quarter phase, to full, last quarter, and back to a thin crescent before beginning its cycle anew.

The full moon of the desert is one of the most dramatic sights you’ll ever see, and paints the desert landscapes with an other-worldly radiance from dusk until dawn.  And if you ever watch the full moon rise over the eastern horizon shortly after sunset, you’ll swear it’s as large as you’ve ever seen it—though we know this to be one of the desert’s most amazing optical illusions.

Spend any time in our desert enjoying its sights and smells and sounds, and you will surely agree it is one of the most captivating places on Earth.  But you will never truly know the desert until you experience it at its most enchanting… under a magical and breathtaking starry night sky.

No comments: