I was recently in the high desert on the other side of the San Bernardino mountains from Los Angeles. It’s an area of dust, creosote bushes, and Joshua trees with a surprising number of fairly large cities and other settlements given the limited water resources. Although not large, the most pronounced of these settlements is the former train station at Kelso in the Mojave National Preserve, which has been restored and is now the preserve’s visitor center and office. Built near a natural water source at the base of an incline which required helper locomotives, the station was a mixture of a crew base for the helper locomotives and a lunch counter for passengers while the helpers were being coupled to their trains. As you approach, the restored station stands out against the surrounding desert both by being the only man-made structure visible for miles around and a small patch of bright green grass against the brown desert. Standing in the shade of the station arcade and looking out across the grass lends a very surreal aspect to the parched landscape starting on the other side of the tracks. On a close inspection, even the natural areas of the desert showed small groupings of the remains of spring wildflowers, hinting at more life than is first apparent. Back at my hotel, I noticed a shaded nook where a tiny cottage garden of flowers was being tended right next to the building.
There are those who love the desert. I am not one of those people. I prefer locations where plant life can grow without having to fight for basic survival. On the other hand, a visit to the desert in the summer is just the thing to bring some perspective back to the day to day tasks of a growing landscape. It seems that the spring and summer are filled with mowing, weeding, harvesting, deadheading, etc.. to the point that at times it is less pleasure than chore. Looked at against the context of a summer desert, however, these change from dull chores to a celebration of abundant life.