Looking out at Boney Mountain and the green, green mountains fed by ample rain, I’m struck by how every vacation is usually a kaleidoscope of events—highs and lows, places and people. Right now, I am searching for that one magical vacation experience from our time in the desert that will be sealed in my memory forever …
The first thing that pops into my head is a trip to the Coachella Valley Thousand Palms Oasis. This is a very popular destination. It’s free, it gives you a taste of the desert, and it can be enchanting. Among others, there is a loop trail about 3 miles long. This hike winds through a dense stand of wild Washingtonian palm trees, unpruned with dead branches littering the ground. After entering the grove, a small stream is first detected by the pungent smell of stagnant water. As the trail progresses, you see the first trickle of moving water.
Deeper into the grove, where the sun is faint, you will cross two bridges that pass over the trickle that is now a stream where tiny fish are illuminated by random sunbeams. Following the path, you are suddenly on the desert floor, skirting along the San Andreas Fault, with the San Jacinto Mountains marching across the northern horizon in pastel shades. After a mile or so, you enter another grove that surrounds a pond that is being rehabilitated for the endangered pupfish. This is the oasis proper that offers water and shelter to wildlife and feeds the stream to the south.
We have been to this beautiful juxtaposition of forest, water, desert, and mountains many times, but this time was extraordinary. On this day our daughter Jennifer and her husband, Greg, were with us as first-time visitors. As we entered the park, a coyote crossed our path in a haze of blowing sand. It was late in the afternoon, and we were the only humans around. A high-wind warning was in effect, and as we accessed the palm grove, the fronds twisted overhead with a scratching sound accompanying the gusting wind. We followed the path that ran alongside the now-unheard stream. The exhilarating sense of the power of nature was present as we progressed through the first grove.
When we came out onto the desert proper, windblown sand blasted against our bodies. The sun was low in the pale sky, and the whole area was bathed in golden light. Sunglasses protected our eyes as we leaned into wind and headed across the desert toward the pond. Leaving the huffing cold gusts of wind out on the sand, there was sudden quiet and stillness. The thick band of palms and a few oaks surrounding the oasis muffled the wind, and the sense of shelter was overwhelming. I thought of creatures and humans alike entering this blessed place of safety and nurture through the ages.
While we were enjoying the sheltering trees, the shimmering water, and the fragrance of damp earth, clouds had been building up in the west. A magnificent sunset was being painted across the sky as rays of sunlight shone down through the clouds onto the mountains. We paused for a few minutes, absorbed in the incredible beauty of the moment. And because we are humans—and because we wanted to hang on to this spectacular memory—we took lots of photos.
As we retraced our steps, the San Andreas Fault—looking completely benign but holding incredible destructive power like a sleeping giant—was on our right while overhead, the light show continued. We watched as shades of gold, coral, violet, and (finally) purple played across the massed clouds. I paused and did a 360-turn with my arms raised, grateful for the Creator who made this dramatic world, painted it with a vast palette, and imbued it with strength and majesty.
Today, there is something else I am grateful for: experiencing this magical time with John, Jen, and Greg. What could be better than the grandeur and power of nature shared in harmony with those you love and pressed into an unforgettable memory in the scrapbook of life?