What’s the difference between the desert and the surface of Mars? One has almost-hospitable temperatures and maybe even water, and the other is full of cactus.
I’ve always considered the desert to be a hot, dry, desolate wasteland consisting of burning sand and painfully abrading wind. The vegetation has evolved to detest all positive forms of emotion, turning what should be a prickly pear lunchtime snuggle into a painful experience removing cactus needles from between our toes. The animals are just as unlikely to share a lunchtime conversation, more likely to inject you with deadly venom or tear a whole in your food bag than let you pet the cute little bugger.
That being said, the desert had a beauty of its own I’ve never been privileged to witness. My only experience in the dry heat has been a ten day trip to Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon over five years ago, so this experience is almost completely new to me. With so little moisture in the atmosphere, the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular as they refract and reflect off small altostratus clouds. Most impressive has been the variety of cactus flowers spread all over the desert. I’m blown away at all the different colors, shapes, and sizes the spectacular blooms have taken, wonderful bright colors to attract the bees and stupid hikers who lean too close for a better look.
We get to hike along spectacular fields and forests, next to towering Joshua and pine trees, and even cross a small spring or two if were lucky. “Laundry” has consisted of rinsing our socks in puddles and a “shower” has just been pouring a Gatorade bottle of water over our heads. Hygiene hasn’t been an issue, as we hang our socks and underwear to dry on the back of our packs as we hike through the summer heat.