I’m up!” It’s 4:30 a.m., as I grab my camera pack, water bottle and turn on my head lamp.
“Is she coming along?” I hear someone in my group whisper. I emerge from my roof-top tent. “I’m coming. Wouldn’t miss it.”
We hike in the dark, through ancient sand, then each of us motivated adventure seekers part ways to find what catches our eye before the sun begins illuminate the desert.
Patterned sandstone, panoramic views and chilled wind fill the landscape.
I watch as my travel companion, my dad, carefully perches aside his tripod. With razor-sharp focus, he has found his optimal spot.
Like the light beginning to emerge from the background of this incredible national monument, cliff-dwelling swallows swoop left and right, like kites without strings.
There are so many angles my eye wants to catch all at once. It’s beyond exhilarating. The light fragments jump over the prehistoric sandstone structures. The colors of the desert intensify in every direction. The wind and cold send a single sparrow over the ridge and so I follow.
In the heart of White Pocket, I have found a wave of texture and color that seems to have been waiting for me. I don’t take time to set up my tripod. I’m bouncing and climbing and hanging in places I’ve never dreamed existed. I watch as light moves from one face of the ridge to another and the gloves on my hands are the only things keeping me from biting my nails. I am scattered in my photographic approach. I can’t sit still. I’m riveted by what I see and, even more importantly, I am blissful about what I feel.
The desert has always been my dad’s haven. In his early years he remembers finding a calendar in his family’s attic with images from the desert. These images imprinted on his heart in a permanent way. He was in disbelief that these magnificent places truly existed.
While traversing the Canyonlands and Moab a few years ago, I began to understand the depth of love one can have for the desert and why: the openness and complete vastness of the desert demand quiet introspection. That kind of introspection beckons your soul’s creativity and your life’s passions. The desert subtly hands you gifts of dream-like euphoria. And your whole self is grounded in a way that feels primal as you close your eyes and breathe it in.
But when the desert waves goodbye, it makes sure you are wide awake.
It fires gold across edges of cliffs.
It creates lenticular clouds that look other-worldly.
It breathes waves of soft pink in all the subtleties of cloud formations in the sky.
It creates one fuchsia succulent that makes the entire sand-thick ground feel alive.
It marks your trail with footprints from jackrabbits and minute paths from fire ants.
It enshrouds you with fine sand in the middle of the afternoon that is accompanied with loud, roaring, shake-you-to-your-core, gusts of wind.
It attracts condors, rebuilding their life in their natural habitat, soaring right above you.
It sends a hush of wind that invigorates you and fills you with a broader perspective.
It makes patterns and shapes in the very walls you climb, to hold you ever so gently.
And it builds a prehistoric nest for you to rest, to breathe in and breathe out, as you are filled with wonder.
The desert knows what it’s doing. It’s sincerity in waving goodbye is only to remind you that like calendar pages, you may turn and flip from January through December, over and over, and sometimes miss the supreme qualities of life. The desert is there to remind you to not let any month or, better yet, any moment pass without seeking those dynamic qualities.
Freedom, uniqueness, and openness. The desert paints every rock face, every sharp angle, every brilliant flower, every textured wave with these qualities. And it vibrantly reminds us that throughout our lives, we can paint our experiences with these qualities, too.
If ever the opportunity arises for you to visit Vermillion National Monument, you will be taken aback by its beauty. White Pocket, within Vermillion, is a photographers utopia.
Having the opportunity to be with a photographers guide, Arizona Highways, https://www.ahpw.org/ made for an amazing learning opportunity. Suzanne Mathia, our stellar lead photographer, offered a buffet of filmic options for each of us daily. She was available at all times, yet never overwhelmed us with a specific plan or schedule. She reminded us that composition comes from being aware of what’s around you. No matter the caliber of our equipment, it is our artful eye that allows an image to be awe-inspiring. She was amazing with novices like myself, as well as skilled photographers like my dad.
Dreamland Outfitters, http://www.dreamlandtours.net/ will serve you up hardy bacon and ample amounts of delicious food. But after their desert bacon, you won’t care what other food is available. They do an incredible job of setting up a secure camp, cooking fortifying food and offering safe entry and exit from hard to reach desert destinations. They offer an educated understanding of the history of your destination and with sleeves of Oreos and tubes of Pringles awaiting you after your hiking journeys, they would be hard to beat.
Cliffdwellers Lodge, http://leesferry.com/cliff-dwellers-lodge/
is dreamy place to be after a few days in full heat and sand storms. The best dessert I have ever eaten was their avocado pie. This, after sunscreened, sooty, insect repellent sticky skin, is the most divine treat the desert could offer. Further proof, the desert knows how to encourage you to come back.