Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Desert musings

Valley of Fire is described in the following way:
The Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape.

Picture yourself standing at the base of one of these sandstone formations. Touch the sandstone, feel how soft it is. Perhaps it is warm from the sun or maybe the stone is cool, the shadow offering a respite from the desert heat. What you are touching is the sand of an ancient ocean that became a great expanse of sand dunes over 150 million years ago.  Millennia passed and those shifting, blowing sands solidified into a solid, cement like surface.  Cracks from tectonic movement, faults in the earth’s skin opened and allowed water and erosion to begin a new process. We see the current sandstone formations as what so far has been created by nature’s hands.
It feels permanent, ageless. And yet, our appreciation of its timelessness is less than a blink of an eye up against the artistic handiwork of wind and rain. On a geographical time scale the transformation of shifting sands to these formations of red rock rising like bones under the skin of the earth is perhaps no more than a sigh.

On a hot day, follow one of the many washes down through the valley. Find the shadowed curve of sandstone and sink down into the soft bed of the dry creek now shaded and cool.  Run your hands through the silky sand, so soft and becoming softer still as you dig lightly with the tips of your fingers. More coolness lies beneath.  With the sand that is now stone at your back, think about all the millions of life forms that once belonged to that ancient sea; life forms that died and became part of the sand that makes up these stones. Minerals and organic material – it towers above the blanket of soil that has settled loosely over the old sand dunes, it shelters you now as you gaze out over creosote and sage.

This substance, hard and unyielding is the same stuff that you and I are made of. Stardust, as I heard one astronomer say, we are all made up of stardust – just like the wall of rock at your back.

The sandstone is just a little farther along in its transformative journey.

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