Hitch Diez- Learndin’ and Splorin’

It’s the stretch run now, folks. We’re down a man, the temperature is creeping up, and the future looms, summer beckons. Hitches always seem daunting at the beginning, as the desert is slow and the days plod along like our heavy-booted steps through the sand. Hitch ten, though, has passed in the blink of an eye. It seems that just yesterday we were in Sand Canyon helping fourth-graders discover the wonders of the desert, like just hours ago we came back from a magical trip into no-man’s land (i.e. the naval weapons center) to see petroglyphs (and wild horses as a bonus!), that we just now drove out to Yucca Valley to begin Leave No Trace training… but suddenly, it’s the end of the hitch and our adventures that took us to so many corners of the Mojave are all behind us, lingering in our memories like dust trails in the wake of our Dodge Ram. This hitch certainly racked up the memories: entertaining elementary school kids with our particular Rands charm in Sand Canyon; holding our breaths and our bladders as we traversed through a canyon filled with petroglyphs; taking in the Dr. Seuss-like scenery of Joshua Tree National Park; inhaling the mouthwatering pizza aroma at Pie for the People after two days of backpacking; giggling over the antics of our BLM contact’s nephew at our dinner party chez Rands; sliding down obsidian deposits at Fossil Falls. We were spoiled this hitch with so many activities outside the norm that restoration now seems like a distant haze-dream, a foggy relic of our old days. We certainly took advantage this hitch of the lighter side of DRC life: trainings and outreach and environmental education enrichment and good ol’ road-trips north, east, and south through miles of creosote and patchy forests of Joshua Trees. We are true students of the Mojave now. We’ve learned of its secrets, its undisclosed wonders, its ebb and flow. We know its plants, its wildflowers, its geology, its whispered history, its storied past as a land of lakes, innovative peoples, and megafauna. We know how dynamic and diverse it actually is, and we know this in our bones, in our lungs, in our skin, a knowing that enters through subconscious means, at a depth we may not have even fully realized yet. This year wasn’t the best for wildflowers, but still our heads turn with every flash of green or burst of color. We celebrate the desert’s small victories, and we rejoice in its subtle diversity. We have one hitch left, one more stint out in the dust, the final exam, the graduation ceremony. It’s all coming together in one final synthesis, and at the end we’ll raise our dusty Nalgenes in a triumphant toast to the season, to our new status as scholars of the dust and the sun. -Irene Gilchriese