Walking Into The Emptiness – Clark Dry Lake Bed, Borrego Springs, CA
There is something about the desert that drives you to explore and, oddly enough, it’s the wide-open views that do it. As you scan the horizon you see glimpses of dark basins and peaks of high mountains, interwoven with seductive rolls and swerves that beckon and tease. There are secrets out there, millions of them hidden around every corner and crevice, history forgotten, and ghosts of the past. This is the lure that bought the very first natives to this land, and it’s the same sense of discovery that keeps us coming back today. By its very nature the desert hides pockets of unexpected life and beauty which, if you can discover them, will be all yours and only yours…at least for that moment. It’s a thrill I get every time I hike into the desert wilderness, and it almost never disappoints.
My morning yesterday was just such a day.
Ever since we’ve been coming to Borrego Springs the flat and lifeless Clark Dry Lake bed has held a strange fascination for me. The basin that holds it has a violent geological history. Clark Valley is a “pulled apart” basin, much like Badwater Basin at Death Valley, and was formed by the movement of Clark Fault and Lute Ridge many hundreds of thousands of years ago. Surrounded by 3000-6000 foot high mountains (Coyote Mountain to the west with Rabbit & Villager Peaks to the east), it’s a salty and dry place that drops ever further each year. To add to it’s allure, during the 2nd World War the basin served as one of at ~12 auxiliary airfields attached to San Diego NAS, and was used as both an emergency landing field and bombing range. These days it’s an abandoned treasure, open to anyone that’s willing to make the trek.
Yesterday morning, early and bright, doggie and I decided to make the pilgrimage.
It was cold and deary Christmas morning. Dark clouds hung low over the RV, the remnants of a night of wind and drizzle. The landscape looked grey and the sky black, sprinkled with drops of water and the fresh scent of desert moisture. We pointed ourselves in the vague direction of the lake bed and started hiking with no particular expectations in mind. About half way down the hill we came across a stone sculpture garden in a place I’ve never been before and a place I’ll (likely) never be able to find again.
What an unexpected find!
Who built this? What was happening in their life when they did it? Did they lose someone they loved? Or just feel the love around them and want to express it? It was rather an intricate garden displaying peace and love and all kinds of other thoughts, apparently very deliberately laid out. I stayed a while to meditate and capture it all in. Quite coincidentally (and rather dramatically I might add) the sun started to shine that very moment, illuminating the garden while simultaneously casting a rainbow off Coyote Mountain and revealing the first specks of blue in the sky.
Oh geez….this is like some kind of spiritual blooming moment.
I laughed and leaned over the sculptures to see if I got any profound inspiration. Nope, just your basic cool desert scene. A grand reveal is all, albeit a rather theatrical one.
Doggie and I took the sign to move on down towards the ever-luring lake bed. As we drove deeper into the basin the sand softened and lush, green creosote bushes replaced the dry brush from above. The lake moved ever closer, excruciatingly slow, but coming nevertheless into focus. Then, rather abruptly the last of nature parted and the lifeless bed emerged.
Holy moly what a sight!
Miles and miles of dry lake, crinkled and cracked by the harsh desert sun. It was a kaleidoscope of texture, caked and splintering clay, hardened by the very edge of moisture and dry. In places the lake looked almost like flowing water, in others like a parched earth. The ground swirled in intricate patterns and crunched in delicate tufts. Every angle revealed a different light, a different canvas.
We spent quite a bit of time in the dry lake bed, doggie and I, just exploring and experiencing the craziness of it all. We didn’t find any discarded munitions (although I gather there are many), but we did enjoy the solitude and nature’s picture. After our dry lake experience was complete we turned around and walked slowly, albeit rather reluctantly home. Our hike into the emptiness of the desert had revealed a hidden garden, a rainbow and a long history of baking sun.
Not bad for a Christmas morning and a secret to call all our very own…at least for that moment.
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