After living in the desert through the heart of winter, springtime in the Mojave comes on like a freight train, and suddenly you’re walking through a Ralph Steadman painting and there’s lilies and poppies and blue dicks and the beavertail cactus is blooming, as is the creosote and the bladderpod and the hopsage.
The colors that were for so long restricted to minor variations of gray and black and brown bleed together and you start to understand why they call it Golden Valley. The ground starts to move beneath your feet and for a few moments you think maybe Natalie Portman with the head of a golden eagle is playing some cruel trick on you but then you realize that it’s just the cold-blooded creatures coming to life and scurrying and sprinting and stampeding through the sand like a reptilian recreation of Jumanji.
The desert horned lizard shoots blood from its eyes – a defense mechanism – casting a red hue over the whole of the valley, as the sun goes down and the sparrows and swifts and swallows start to sing and when the sky is done burning the crickets start calling and the wind starts howling and the kangaroo rats wage war on the granola you dropped on the ground earlier in the day.
The night sky spreads out before you and you see infinite constellations, real and imagined, shooting stars and satellites, the waning moon making a late appearance, and camping out until well into the morning. In the heart of Golden Valley you’re further from humans than you’ve been in months, years, your whole life maybe; as you round the bend into Christmas Canyon, Trona’s sulfurous stench is stifled and the droning of dirt bikes dissipates and you find yourself alone, just a solitary turkey vulture in the sky to watch over you as you’re carried along in the wind.
A speckled rattlesnake makes its presence known and you stop dead in your tracks, three feet and six seconds away from a bite that would send you crawling to an early grave. But it’s a friendly warning; knowing glances are exchanged, and you go on your way, as does the serpent, with the sun on your back and a cool spring breeze on your face, each creature free to enjoy the onset of spring in his own peculiar way.