We made it to Mojave National Preserve after a few hours on a road filled with ghost towns and endless creosote. Part of Joshua Tree is in the Mojave desert, so we were unsure if we would see anything new in the Mojave Preserve (We are fools for ever doubting the National Parks Service).
After snagging a spot at Hole-in-the-Wall campground (real name), we stopped at Kelso Depot, an old train depot turned visitor center, and watched their informational film. Park informational films are great, and no one loves them more than one Ryan R. Doyle.
We were a bit tired from days of hiking, but we decided to drive by the Kelso Dunes. We got out of our car planning to walk to the base and take photos, but once we saw the dunes, we had to climb them.
And we had to go to the very top.
The dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above the desert floor. We passed visitors with makeshift sleds and laughed at the absurdity of climbing a sand mountain in the middle of the Mojave deserts hours after wondering if this place had anything interesting to offer.
I sat on the ridge of one of the smaller dunes and a wave of gratefulness swirled around me with the wind.
I felt connected to the Universe, grounded somehow on shifting sands, a small but mighty speck; insignificant, yet powerful enough to create a mountain in a desert.
We are everything, and we are nothing. Sometimes the weight of that lies so heavy on my heart. But for one moment in time, sitting on a ridge that would be gone with one simple gust, I understood the balance and beauty of it.
We got to the top and laughed in each other’s arms.
“What a life.”
You can’t stay at the top of the mountain forever, and it was time to head back. Ryan began hiking down the way we came, a gradual descent from dune to dune. Having seen a speck of a man jumping down the side of the mountain earlier, I had other ideas. I took off my shoes and socks, packed them in my bag and began jumping down the face. My feet sank in up to my shins with each jump and I began gaining momentum. In a few short seconds I was in a Willy Wonka world, walking on a wall, legs perpendicular to the dune I was descending. I think I laughed; I think I screamed. Ryan joined me on the slow motion fall, and we made it to the base laughing with incredulity.
That night in the tent as the winds came, I thought of those dunes, swallowing our footsteps and any trace of our presence.
The winds picked up. And then they picked up even more. The desert became angry and decided our tent was unwelcome. At around 4:30AM the tent almost folded in half. Afraid the poles might snap as they twisted and bent, we packed up and sat in the car.
It was cold, and it took about a half hour for my body to relax from shivering. I thought about our next stop: Death Valley. I pictured my skin warm with heat, and I slowly fell into sleep.
We left after a couple hours of sleep, knowing that Kelso Dunes would welcome the next visitors in a new shape.
Driving north, in a half sleep state, I understood that we are becoming new shapes too.