National Geographic : 1987 Jan
separate mountain ranges from your front door?" The evidence before us was vivid. Mountain ranges in this part of the Mojave surface whole from the earth, like stone porpoises. The sheer compass of it all makes you exuberant. "I've smelled the Pacific this far inland once or twice," said Bannerman later, as if to further impress on me the unorthodox scale of the place. I had, in fact, begun to think of the desert itself as an ocean. The glint of sunlight on vast and uniform shields of gray-green vegetation is very like its me tallic glare from a rolling sea. The mountain ranges stand on the land like archipelagoes. Cloud shadows drift slowly across the empty basins or across the flanks of salmon-tinted mountains like huge fish. Occasionally the land becomes so extensive the horizon itself becomes nautical-the edge of the earth seems to curve over into space. Bannerman's destination was Snake Spring, a damp oasis tucked in a crevice of the Granite Mountains. We climbed up to it easily, and sat there in silence amid the trees. Water is so dear over so much of the desert that wherever it flows freely, as here, an at mosphere of serene calm prevails. The cool air fell over my shoulders like a mantle, and I surveyed the hundred square miles of desert basin below me, looking for coyotes and the lineaments of its geology. "What was that?" I asked, breaking our long silence. "Red-spotted toad," said Bannerman. "You rarely hear them during the day. It's a night sound." Before we left the cove-I could not resist shuffling loudly through a thick layer of cot tonwood and willow leaves on an incongru ous swatch of green desert grasses as we departed-Bannerman showed me a shel ter. It was a kind of natural breezeway in the granite where one could sit out of the sun and still watch the desert. I adjusted my sitting The not-so-deserted desert is site of an annualgatheringof the Death Valley 49ers at FurnaceCreek. The group promotes preservationof Death Valley. But crowds of up to 14,000-attracted by festivities that include a fiddler's contest, mineral displays, and a desert artshow-strainpark resources.