After visiting the Chiricahua Desert Museum with Jerry last week, I was convinced that I would die in the desert of multiple rattlesnake bites. The museum had a whole room filled with snakes, in glass cages of course, but still the effect was unsettling. It gave me the impression that the desert was just crawling with those creatures, and that any excursion into the wilderness was fraught with danger. I saw snakebite first aid kits with their knife blades and suction cups, and shin guard leggings made of steel. I didn't have any of that stuff.
Rusty, the owner and operator of Rusty's RV Ranch, where Jerry and I stayed for a week, tried to reassure me that even though those creatures are out there, they usually won't bother you if you don't threaten them. Reaching for a snake is a no-no. Knowing that snakes generally seek warmth during the day and hide underground at night could give me an idea of places to avoid. It didn't really matter, though. No matter what, the desert was my destination after Jerry left on Sunday.
I had to pack up my telescope the night before and even at that, it was after 11:00 AM when I finally had my car packed and ready to go. As usual, I was searching for spare cubic inches to store last minute items, only this time it was even more difficult since I had 20 gallons of water in 5 gallon collapsible containers on the front seat of my car, plus all the groceries from our week long stay at Rusty's plus the additional ones I bought in Douglas on Saturday. It seemed like my car was squatting even lower than usual with the weight. Maybe it was due to the wet laundry, since I ran a load in Rusty's laundry before leaving, planning to hang the clothing out to dry on creosote bushes when I reached my campsite.
I did drag bottom several times on the road up to the camp spot Jerry and I had scoped out a few days earlier, but I straddled the ruts in the road and managed to avoid the bigger rocks. I was unpacking my tent and setting up my telescope equipment by early afternoon in anticipation of a night of observing, having sacrificed a clear night the day before due to packing up early. It was a little breezy, but not too bad and I got the tent set up without issues and then settled in for the night with a meal of waffles topped with yogurt, which reminded me of Sylvia and her gigantic Belgian waffle topped with strawberries, bananas, kiwi fruit, and probably blueberries.
Since it was cloudy near the horizon at sunset, and the clouds got denser toward 10 PM, I decided to turn in and climbed into my sleeping bag, in my freshly laundered bag liner. I put on my socks, long underwear, and soft sleeved sweatshirt for sleeping, as I didn't know how cold it would get during the night. It turned out to be somewhat too warm for that and my sleeping bag, but I was still relatively comfortable. Around 1 AM the stars were out, but it looked somewhat cloudy so I stayed in bed, even though the telescope was ready and the computer was booted to Windows, but in sleep mode.
By morning it was somewhat chilly, enough for my Patagonia coat that Suzanne gave me, so I cooked my breakfast in my improvised kitchen between my observing and sleeping tents. With a big pot of rice, lentils, potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli, onion, ginger, garlic, egg, sunflower seed, mushroom and red pepper breakfast, I headed off into the brush for my first walk in the new campsite. What would I see? There weren't any of the tall saguaro cacti, but occasional yucca and lots of creosote bushes. Would there be any snakes?
Heading for the hills to the right of the cell phone towers, I worked my way between the creosote bushes, always keeping my eyes on the ground and avoiding any areas where I couldn't see the ground clearly. I walked up slope toward some mountains in the distance, occasionally crossing small drainages and one good sized gully but didn't see anything slither or scurry. Slowly my anxiety faded. There might have been snakes out there, but they must have been sleeping underground, as it was still somewhat chilly at 9 AM. There was lots of evidence of underground habitation, with rabbit holes and perhaps even some fox burrows. There were even some dog-like tracks, so maybe coyotes were around too.
The thought occurred to me that living in a comfortable environment like the park model trailer at Rusty's, or even in a motor home or camper, made you more afraid of the outdoors. The desert museum played upon that fear by offering so many examples of venomous snakes. That probably gave most tourists the impression that the desert was a dangerous and hostile environment, where yo had to protect yourself at every moment or you would most certainly die. How different was my experience! The ground was somewhat soft with the gravel and dirt fluffed by the winter rain and freeze-thaw cycles, and there was green grass interspersed between creosote bushes, but it seemed pleasant enough in the warmth of the morning Sun.
t made me feel good to be back out in the wilderness. There was a sense of utter peace and quiet. I was alone and could do as I pleased. All my needs were satisfied. The landscape was empty and yet full. The sky was unobstructed and waiting for my telescope and camera. It was like the ocean, vast and wild, yet seemingly placid and buoyant. Maybe this was where I belonged, being a Pisces. There is a funny connection between the ocean and the desert.
Sitting in my tent enjoying a cup of tea, I did receive a welcome from my neighbors, though. I was not totally alone, but the object of curiosity for a small group of cattle.