Life Lessons in the Mojave Desert

This summer, my sister Kell and I crossed an item off our bucket list when we took a three-day kayaking trip on the Colorado River at the base of the Hoover Dam. That part of the river goes through a desert, and that harsh terrain was a stark reminder of some of the principles I try (but sometimes fail) to follow in my day-to-day life back home.

1. A good guide can be the difference between fun and misery. 

Kell and I went with a tour company, Desert Adventures. We could not have done this trip without our guide, Gary. He knew the trails and kept us comfortable and well-fed. I’ve camped and kayaked before, but I didn’t have enough experience to do a trip like this without a guide. Sometimes back in my “real life” it’s hard to ask for help or say I need guidance, but while following Gary on the trails, I wondered why I’ve been so stubborn about this. Having someone who has been there, done that makes the path so much easier. My takeaway: Seek out guides!

2. Good preparation improves your ability to improvise. 

Our guide, Gary, had planned out all our meals and brought enough tools, supplies and amenities so that we could live three days in the desert very comfortably. Even though there was a plan for the trip, we felt free to be flexible every day. For instance, we passed an afternoon soaking in a 98º hot spring and stayed well past sunset because we had flashlights and towels. Being prepared gives you opportunities to wing it when something really good comes along (like the chance to while away the day and night in a natural hot spring!).

Kell sitting on our "front porch" at our camp site
Kell sitting on our “front porch” at our camp site

3. It’s sometimes easier to do difficult things when you don’t see the risks.

One night, we decided to hike to the single public “bathroom” in the area. It was after dinner, and well after dark. The hike was a little under a half mile. We had headlamps and good shoes and followed Gary. We scrambled up jagged rocks, through a crevasse and down slopes littered with tiny, unstable pebbles. At one point we stepped carefully over a gap in the trail – a black hole that we stepped over one at a time. We made it to the bathrooms and back without incident. The next day we made the same hike in the daylight on our way to a trailhead. I slid down a rocky slope and Kell lost her footing twice. “People always have a harder time with this trail when they can see it,” said Gary. We knew it was an uneven trail, but in the dark we couldn’t focus on the drop to the water or the crack we’d have to shimmy through. We just moved forward. This isn’t a call for carelessness; it’s a reminder to not get bogged down in the uncertainties. And see Lesson 1: Have a Good Guide.

4. You get to awesome places by taking small steps.

This is a lesson in self-care, one that is so easy to dismiss when I’m in my daily routine and deciding to skimp on sleep or skip a workout. On a searing hot day, we hiked to petroglyphs (rock carvings). The trail was a dry riverbed. Though it was a short hike – only about three miles roundtrip – each time we found some shade, we took a seat, sipped some water and chatted. Taking our time was the only way we would make it to the petroglyphs and back. We had to rest, to care for ourselves and not get overheated. We made it there, got great photos, and took a well-deserved swim in the Colorado back at camp. Take good care of yourself along the way!

On the trail from the petroglyphs
On the trail from the petroglyphs

5. Journeys are more fun with others.

The environment we were in was rugged and gorgeous. I’ve never seen such a big sky. I had lots of time to myself, to unplug and reflect. The greatest memories are the ones with my sister, though. It was amazing to have that experience together, to push ourselves during the day and then gather around the campfire at night. When the trip was over and we were dropped off in Las Vegas, we made a beeline for the Buffet at the Bellagio and spent the whole night rehashing stories.

We had a great time in the Mojave Desert and I can’t wait until the next outdoor adventure!