Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Peak Baggers


Dune Detail, Mojave Desert

We’d been posted up at one of my favorite spots in the Mojave for half a day when the van pulled up, about 45 minutes after sunset. This place is isolated.  Earlier in the day I’d been thinking that the nearest human was likely 10 miles or more away.  The van contained a couple from Marin County CA who, it turned out, were “trying to see as many sand dunes as possible.”  Apparently they’ve seen dunes in 20 locations this season. When it became clear that they planned to camp 25 feet from us, I pointed out that there was another spot just up the road.  What I should have said, I suppose, is that camping etiquette dictates giving those who arrive first some space.  His response (I did manage not to laugh) was that he was not comfortable driving in sand.  I’m thinking safe driving in sand would be a good skill to have when driving from one dune field to another.

Yes, I’ve talked about rude campers before.  This is a different rant.  About the “peak bagger,” or the “been there, done that” phenomenon as I’ve heard Michael DeYoung call it.

The fundamental issue for me is respect for the land; the kind of veneration that comes from deep knowledge and humble exploration.  Perhaps right-minded bucket-listers exist, but I don’t believe I’ve met any, and furthermore I’m convinced that those who dash from one location to the next do the most damage, leaving trash and human waste and camping where they shouldn’t.  I respectfully submit that we can only know the land by slowing down and getting to know a place, spending time and being mindful.

Whew.  Rant over.

Cactus Detail, Mojave Desert

 It occurs to me that I’ve been communing happily with the Mojave Desert since my dad introduced us to its charms when we were kids.  Of course, the swimming pools in our Palm Springs hotels were a big draw, but the experience of feeling evening in the desert and seeing the bats come out of the mountains for the night have stayed with me.  Then my university botany class, which included a field trip to Anza Borrego State Park to learn about spring flowers, brought that all back.  I was hooked, and even before photography became important to me, I’d scoot off to the Mojave whenever I could. 

Sunrise Spotlight, Mojave Desert

There’s a sparseness and a specific magical quiet which, once experienced, is with you forever.  For solitude junkies like me, there are ample opportunities to get away from the famous places which are often overrun.  With patience and a good vehicle or the willingness to walk, there’s quite a bit to be discovered despite the Instagram syndrome. 


First Light, Caruthers Canyon, Mojave National Preserve

I’m on board with the “Tag Responsibly” movement, but I’ll identify one location from last week’s trip since it’s on the Mojave Preserve’s list of places to dispersed camp. So, not a secret. Besides, the road is not for the faint of heart.  Caruthers Canyon has long been on my list.  It contains a lovely Pinon Juniper forest and lies at about 5500ft elevation.  There was snow on the ground when we arrived.  That and the big granitic boulders made for lovely scenery.

Cloud Drama, Mojave National Preserve

A little lower in elevation is our favorite Joshua Tree forest.  The crazy, windblown clouds made for a particularly photogenic day.  In the morning I was surrounded by coyotes singing to each other while waiting for the sun to come up.  This is the music of a wild space.

Pastel Dunes, Mojave National Preserve

And then there were the dunes.  I can never get enough of dawn light on dune textures or the pastels when the sun is below the horizon.

I expect I’ll keep deepening my connection to this land as long as I’m able.  If I don’t see 20 different sand dune fields this year, that’s OK.

Thanks for the read.

There’s more on the newly minted Mojave Desert Gallery on the website.