A Trip Through the Heated Southwest

Nevada, Utah, Arizona.

One of the most astounding road trips I’ve ever taken. I won’t go much into the personal details, except that my wonderful wife makes the most perfect travel companion. We went together on every leg of the trip, down every path and through every wonderful snack.

There’s a heck of a lot of wild earth out there.

The First Leg

The drive up really set the stage for the beauty later in the trip. Leaving LA takes you through mountains, cutting Northeast on the 15 just East of Mt. Baldy. The road rises and falls with each ripple in the landscape. The plants fade away quite suddenly, in tune with the rapidly rising temperatures. The earth stretches on in pale waves of sandy hills and crumbling mountains. It was the stark sort of beauty that was wonderful to look at, but not so wonderful to stretch your legs in.

The whole trip cut through the hottest of desert lands. Temperatures across most of the trip ranged from 99F to 115F, though occasionally it was a bit warmer. The only respite was indoors, in the car, or in the occasional cave (though that wasn’t till later). Even the night times were warm. I’m astounded by the people who are able to live with that air as their day-to-day life. Even the plants were impressive, showing off their green strength throughout every moment of the day.

I’m particularly impressed by the skills of the cacti. In places such as this, cacti thorns provide shade to the main plant, keeping it from getting sunburned. The spines of cholla cacti are covered in a thin paper sheathe, keeping them even cooler. They’re among the few cacti that grow wooden skeletons, helping them spread out and stay up off the ground. Such nifty plants!

Vegas didn’t have much plant life in it, so I’ll gloss over that here. Some of the casinos, though, did have wonderful displays of plant art, safely indoors. Many of the plants were alive, intermingled with dried or plastic displays. I’m not sure what will happen to these plants when it’s time to change decorations, but I hope they find a nice home. If not, the plants seem happy enough staying right where they are.

Be sure to check out my latest guided meditation!

The Quiet of the High Desert Mindful Foliage

Further North

Continuing onward on the 15 North (though still heading directly Northeast), the land changed abruptly and almost completely. The stone evolved into a more fluid state. It grew deeply red, overlaying a heavy gray. The selection of plants stayed largely the same, though I’m sure the specific species were varying from place to place. Almost all were scrub brush of the driest sort, intermixed with creosote and cacti. Hardly a flower in sight.

In Utah, finally, the land changed yet again. The rock began to hang and pit, forming caves inset into the walls. Trees grew surprisingly thickly as the elevation rose even further, and the occasional stretch of water hung around the ribs of rocks. We rose through a pass in the mountains, alongside a narrow stream ran. Most of it was thick orange and red from the minerals, and elsewhere was merely a dampness to the stone.

The most surprising aspect of the land wasn’t on the surface.

The Belly of the Dragon is a most astounding hiking trail. I’ll say at the onset that we barely even scratched the surface (cave pun?), but the trail certainly must have been lovely further on. It starts just off the road, right next to a bare dirt parking lot. Climb a few feet down and you arrive at the tunnel.

It seems like it must have been a path for water to take after carving the slot canyons farther up. In direct contrast to the fury of the sun outside, the cave’s interior was dark and cool. A steady, calming breeze blew through it. The air must have been only 75 degrees or so. If we’d brought snacks and more water, we probably would have spent a long time in that cave. There wasn’t even need for light near the center, as the soft stone had worn into a gentle sandy path. There was no plant life, no danger, nothing at all except the cool air the the names of visitors carved on the walls.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if we didn’t leave the cave.

Farther on, the sandy path leads into a cul-de-sac of a slot canyon. While normally this would be lovely enough on its own, someone (or someones) built a bevy of rock towers. I can’t imagine they would have attempted this sort of construction with the weather as it was… but on a cool, clear day it must’ve been a pleasant time. There’s also supposed to be a side path from the cul-de-sac that leads into further slot canyons, but I was not going to do that with the heat as it was.

The rest of Utah was just as beautiful, but this particular little trail really stood out from the rest.

Leg Three

Arizona is a land of unquestionably lovely rocks. Plants are a little sparse at times, but the rocks are always there. It’s the land of Red Rock country, sudden elevation changes, windy roads, and a kaleidoscope store that knocked my socks off.

Driving into Arizona from the north, we cut through long stretches of nearly uninhabited country. The roads are occasionally straight for a very long time, and sometimes curve rapidly through the mountains. Freeways (or highways?) are two-lane, and oncoming headlights are something to be aware of when driving at night. During the day, it’s a balance between your gas mileage, AC, and finding good places to stretch your legs.

Once we got down into the heart of the state, the earth had yet another transformation. Desert scrub brush gave way to alpine-style trees in thick swathes. We saw deer, pigs, and more lizards than you would dare shake a stick at. This is the land of vortexes and a surprising number of lakes. Despite what the surrounding desert would have you believe, the area between Prescott and Sedona is absolutely lush with living plants, even when we humans couldn’t hope to thrive outdoors.

The drive from Prescott back to Los Angeles was yet another version of the desert. It seemed that this trip had been one of distinct patches of arid earth, each distinct in rock and plant; LA to Vegas and just a bit past that, Southern Utah, South-Central Utah and into Northern Arizona, North-Central Arizona, then Arizona-Southeast California. The last leg had the most Joshua Trees by far, and the greatest change in elevation. The weather stayed pretty constant, with quickly-drifting small clouds scared away by the 100+ degree heat. The freeway was the sort with ghost towns near enough and mining visible in the hills. Large swaths of solar panels and windmills peppered the hills and valleys.

It’s impossible to pick out one place that stood out above the rest… except that this trip contained the Belly of the Dragon, which is among the most amazing trails I’ve seen in a while. If it’d been 10 degrees cooler, I probably would have pressed on to see the rest of it. Guess I’ll have to go again!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!


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