The Booming Sands of the Mojave

With each elongated step of sliding down the enormous sand dune, a reverberating booming sound escaped the sands from beneath me. This was remarkable! I had never met such a phenomenon before. I felt as though I was the one instigating such a feat, thus giving me feelings of a supernatural essence.

I was at Mojave National Preserve in southern California. This preserve was the first noted point of interest on my fourth great National Park adventure. The park features the largest Joshua tree forest in the world, canyons, mesas, volcanos, abandoned homesteads, military outposts, and “singing sand dunes.” During the entirety of my visit to the Kelso Dunes section of the park,  I was the only one there. It was early morning, and the desert sun was just starting to become quite fiery. I was excited to take on the sand dunes. As I looked out upon them, I determined, then and there, I had to make it to the top of the tallest dune. Learning from my mistakes in the past, and after having burnt my feet at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, I made sure my footwear was solid. I filled up a water bottle, threw a Clif Bar in my backpack, lathered up and worked in my sunscreen, and took off running into the dunes. 

My fourth great National Park adventure was really starting to take off! I had embarked on such trips the past three summers, in which I’d camp and travel from National Park to National Park for the large majority of my summer break hiking and exploring the great outdoors. This trip, although starting in the Southwest, would eventually take me far up into the Northwest, an area I had yet to explore. This was my second day in the Mojave National Preserve, but the first one waking up in it. Already the park had impressed me. My expectations for it were quite low. I had been to other parks in the Mojave Desert before, such as Death Valley and Joshua Tree, how different could this be? And it was a “preserve,” such a title to me suggested less opportunity for recreation. However, I was surprised. This place was by far underrated in the National Park Service and filled with many hidden gems. I was in the midst of discovering one of said gems in this moment: the Kelso Dunes. They gave justice to the term sand dunes. But perhaps would be more justified by a term “sand mountains.” Enormous mounds of sand rose above the rest of the desert. On the lower sides of the dunes, desert grasses poked up sparsely from the wind combed sand and Mojave fringe-toed lizards scurried about. The creatures were quite nervous and incredibly fast, but stealthily, as if sneaking up upon my prey, I was able to approach one to capture a quite satisfying photograph. I also had to capture photos of myself in such an area. The shock value of such a contrasting landscape, from that which I was accustomed to in Kentucky, was striking upon me.

 

As I looked at that enormous sand dune in the distance, the one I resolved to climb to the top of, doubt began to creep in. It was hard to gauge exactly how tall the sand dune was. I wanted to be done in an hour or two, for although as exciting as this was, I also had other places to see and other things to do. Looking at the dune, I could not determine if this would fit nicely into my plans or would require a full day expedition, and if it was the latter, I was not prepared and rather ill-equipped. But I determined to press forward. If it proved too much I could always turn around. Then, not only was I considering the time factor, but I started to wonder if it was physically possible, for the rising of the sand looked quite steep. Would I be able to pull myself up that? There was no designated trail. This was a free for all, and quite obviously no one had been out here this morning, and perhaps not for a while, for the traces of any feet in the sand had been well swept away by the wind. The place looked untouched. It was just me and the desert. Graciously enough, this peak in the sand dune expanse, did not present any false summits, however dips and dives in the sandscape did surprise. 

I didn’t try to dig my feet in the sand, but as I started to ascend the steepest stretch, my feet naturally sunk into the sand, and pressed further in as I tried to establish footing to push myself upwards. I paused to look around. The landscape was just so enormous. To my one side was the wall of sand, but out below me to the right spread, so immensely, the Mojave desert. The light-colored sand expanse spilled for just a mile or so into the desert, before the long stretches of valley filled with cactus and shrub took over, with the bright morning sun casting shadows, which not noticeable individually, but collectively, gave a dark brown hue to the landscape. Then as the mountains in the distance, bordering the immense valley, rose up, the higher they climbed, the bluer the tone they assumed, until, at their darkest summits, a crescendo of the breaking sky burst in a glorious white only to quickly transition to a spotless blue that covered the rest of the desert sky. 

I continued on, elated, feeling as though I had really arrived upon adventure’s doorstep. Then, I reached the top, standing bold and accomplished, I looked over the other side of the dune and saw the same immensity of desert and mountain mimicked. Here at the pointed spine of the sand dune, on the Eastern side, the sand was finely combed into delicate rivets by the wind. On the Western slope the sand had been blown into one smooth, harmonious sheet of sand. The spine snaked up to a higher pinnacle. I crushed the delicate spine as I trampled my way to this final viewpoint. And there I stood in awe. I could assume, a great number of people, especially back East, couldn’t even imagine such a robust desert landscape existed in our country. I felt I was in such an exotic place, a place from fiction, and that I was the Prince of Persia.

I sat down, drank some water, ate my Clif bar, and sucked on a few electrolyte dummies. I reveled in the comforting and consuming sun. I took off my boots and sunk my feet into the soft sand. Here, from this pedestal, I looked down upon the Earth. It was one of those mountain-top experiences that puts life into perspective. The immensity of the view before me, and the diminutive nature of everything from such heights, put life into perspective. The canvas is much bigger than the small concerns we often get caught up in below.  

When I was done taking it all in, I began my descent, and the gravity of the Earth pulled me downward, and thus a single step slid well into the sloping sand before me, carrying me quite a distance. It was nothing more than a controlled falling glide into the sand, but it gave quite the superhuman sensation- a similar sensation one might get walking upon those conveyor belt  automated walkways at the airport. One stride takes you much farther than humanly possible alone, as the very ground beneath you moves in conjunction. Thus I was descending nothing short of a mountain in mere easily countable strides. The effort was minimal, so I held my head up and looked out upon the other more solid mountains parallel and at times below me. I felt as though I was descending upon the Earth in majestic style. And to top it all off, the sand beneath me boomed! That’s right, the sand beneath me sensationally responded to each of my steps! There’s a scientific explanation behind this. It has to do with the warm layers of sand meeting the cold layers beneath and sound waves getting trapped within the layers, but to me, I imagined as if it was I causing the sound, or as if the earth was shuddering to each of my steps, as if I was Zeus or some Greek god descending from the sky upon Olympus.

As supernatural musings took hold of my thoughts, I began to think of Heaven. How will man interact with the landscapes there? Will such enormous, satisfying, efficient strides be more commonplace? Distance and strenuity have a hold of man’s interaction with wild landscapes, but what if there they will be more easily traversed and enjoyed? 

I had a dream, just months prior, that I was in Heaven. I recently had read a book by David Murray titled the “Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World.”  In it the author talks about how work is not a result of sin, but how work as we know it on Earth has been corrupted by sin. The author discusses how Adam and Eve, before the fall of man, worked in the Garden attending to it and naming the animals. They were designed, in part, for work. Eve was even created to help with said work. Thus work existed before sin, and so the author proposes that work will also exist in Heaven; that we will all have our own duties, but it will be joyous and fulfilling. I think this portion of the book was responsible for my dream, for in my dream I was at work in Heaven. I was a harvester, or scavenger, in the forests and jungles of Heaven. We went collecting exotic Heavenly fruits to bring back to the people in the Kingdom. And it was thrilling! Our feet were always bare, but they were never worn nor scratched. We would jump from mountain peak to mountain peak. We’d race through all the undergrowth of the forest, unscathed. We’d fall with the waterfalls in excitement to take us from one place to another. We were a team, such great comradery, and we were harmonious with the land. Toil was not there. The land never caused us harm. The way we interacted with it served our purpose. There was no strenuity, danger, or fatigue, such things were absent. Nature had no temperament. It agreed with us. Maybe we even had authority over it. 

It was just a dream, fun to entertain, but at the end of the day, a creation of my imagination. But here on the sand dunes in Mojave National Preserve, I felt a fragment of what I felt in that dream. The desert had no hold on me. I had power over it. It gave a shuttering boom with every step, and I could traverse it with ease. Thus I became flooded with the thoughts and awe of eternity.

I didn’t know it then, but I know it now, eternity would become a major theme of the summer. I would end up facing questions about life, death, and eternity here after. This would become a heavy but blessed summer. As I descended those sand dunes, along with the weight of gravity came the weightier questions of life: What is my purpose here in life? How do I relate to others in the time I’m given? Would I leave a legacy when I’m gone? Does that even matter? As the sand spilled down the dune, so these questions tumbled down upon me. The timing was orchestrated and perfect, although it wouldn’t be easy. I had traversed the Canyonlands, learned to be Still, Calm, and Quiet, and now it was time to face the prospect of Sunset. 

Check out my book Still, Calm, and Quiet, here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B093RMBNCP

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