After a freezing morning at the Grand Canyon, we drove across Arizona and down into the warming deserts of California. In this part of the world, a few hours driving can result in a massive temperature shift. Soon, coats and sweaters were removed and windows rolled down to bask in the sunlight.
We drove through the beautiful desert scenery under a perfect blue sky, then got out of the car to wander through a maze of cholla cactus. Glowing both serenely and surreally in the later winter afternoon sun, the cacti already look liked like some alien life form, especially to this non-local. “What are they trying to communicate?” I allowed myself to playfully wonder. But, looking closely at one was less like examining an alien and more like looking at another world entirely, as each comb was filled with hundreds of criss-crossing tiny spikes. A dense microcosm surrounded by a vast, empty plains and distant mountains. The warmth of the sun and the contrast between worlds made me almost giddy. Though only a few feet from a tiny car park, the isolated and dream-like setting had enough drama to make me feel like an explorer of another planet or a remote corner of our planet, which for most of our history, such a place it was .