It’s April-somethingth-2020, during the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic. (The very scary part.)
By some weird stroke of luck, I found myself living temporarily in the high desert when Covid-19 hit. As I watched the world shut down around me, I felt incredibly lucky to live in a landscape that felt open and infinite.
I was based in Morongo Valley, and all the nature preserves around me, and Joshua Tree National Park, had long since closed — dissuading LA travelers as well as interstate tourism. But if you were willing to venture further out into the real wilderness, there were some random parks and preserves still open.
I’d met a fellow photographer around Landers, CA the week before and he tipped me off to a wildflower bloom just about to happen inside the Mojave Desert. He told me he’d just been to the Cadiz Sand Dunes, about an hour past Twentynine Palms, and about 50 miles from the nearest town or civilization in general — and that there were flower buds everywhere.
Given my obsession with the desert landscapes, the plant and wildlife within it, and a pretty open schedule, I set off a few days later in search of these magical blooms. I called up my friend Nick — a fellow nature and adventure enthusiast— who was in for the trip as well. We looked at a map and saw that the Amboy Crater was close to the Dunes and decided to tack that on, too. I picked him up in my Jeep (roof removed and windows wide open, it was pandemic season after all) and we set off for a daytrip to the middle of nowhere.
We got to Amboy Crater first, which is daunting as it becomes visible in the distance. Imagine in an otherwise flat landscape, a big mountain with a flat top, in the middle of nowhere. The hike up is steep and hot as heck (bring more water than you think you need) but it’s a fascinating experience. Besides a few lizards and some really crazy looking bugs living in puddles, there wasn’t much life to see in this harsh landscape. Onto the next.
It was about an hour drive to the Cadiz Sand Dunes from there, much of it off-road. (4WD with high clearance is necessary!) From the parking lot, the dunes seem like a mirage, and impossibly far away; however, it’s a 20 minute walk, tops.
On arrival, we didn’t see a single flower, or even a flower bud, but the dunes are gorgeous and fun to run around on. We shrugged off the flowers, walked around, attempted to surf on skateboards (no luck), and sat around waiting for sunset.
Mid-sunset, we descended from the dunes and headed back to the car. On the short walk back, we stumbled upon a field of leafy green plants that had magically appeared from the dunes; to our surprise, they had delicate, beautiful white flowers.
Looking around, they just seemed to bloom around us for our own special show. These were desert evening primrose (emphasis on evening) and so we didn’t notice them on our way in because they just looked like your run-of-the-mill desert weeds most of the day; they open at night.
To find such beauty in the middle of nowhere, in a landscape that is so rugged and harsh, is awe-inducing. It is literally living proof of natures toughness and resilience – which is just the kind of message you’re looking for during a global pandemic.