Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, CA
It was still dark when I left the pavement and followed the trail into the dunes, before anyone else this morning. Before other feet marked the rippled mounds, and before the animal tracks were obliterated by them. Before the winds came up to dry me out, crack my lips, and irritate my eyes with grains of sand so fine I will find them for weeks. Before voices and jets break the sound barrier, before any noise intruded to make you feel like you were not in the wilderness; before the world could make you feel like you were not in a place that hadn't really changed in thousands of years. Before the sun rose and began microwaving the valley, baking dunes white and people red. Before the subtle shadows grow darker, or lose distinction altogether as the sun climbs. Before the sky brightens and blinds. Before I can think. Just before it all changed.