Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 8, 2014

Waking up in the Sonoran Desert

Photo Thomas Wiewandt, Desert Dreams
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Waking up in the Sonoran Desert is a profound experience. It is silence as never experienced before. Before dawn the Morning Dove is the only sound in a silence that can only be described as delicious. At sunrise, the noisy Gila Woodpecker starts making its noise. Somewhere out there, cactus are bursting into bloom, and the javalena, bobcats and desert tortoise are searching for breakfast in one of the world's greatest ecosystems and mysteries.

This desert runs right up to the ocean, the mighty Pacific Ocean, and this water also flows into the Gulf of California off the coast of Sonora, Mexico. This area of the Pacific is where the whales travel to each year from Alaska to have their babies. It is where the desert meets the sea.

Once desperate to explore this region, I waited at midnight for an inexpensive luxury bus to take me from the seaport town of Puerto Penasco, Sonora, to the coastal peninsula of Baja. A large group of Mexican soldiers showed up, dressed in camouflage, to wait for the bus as well. They were carrying long metal poles.

With my limited Spanish, I couldn't understand what they were up to. All I knew I was going to be on a bus, suspiciously under-priced, all night with the Mexican military to Baja. There was a layover in Tijuana, already a pretty scary idea, especially for reporters and especially for a gringa reporter traveling alone ten years ago. As it turned out, it was a luxury bus, with spacious seats, and sandwiches and cold drinks served by a hostess. All night I watched the Mexican soldiers with their long metal poles. To keep my level of terror under control, I convinced myself they were part of a movie crew.

Finally, in the dark night, with the moon shining brightly over the grand Sonoran Desert near Calexico, I understood what they were doing. They said they were the Mexican Navy, Armada de Mexico, going to measure the ocean depth with these poles. Whether that is true, I don't know. At least we made it safely to Tijuana. I reached Baja and traveled by cheap bus down the coast. With limited money and limited Spanish, I couldn't find a way out to the coast where the whales have their babies. The Mexican military disappeared into Tijuana.

On other journeys, I was in the presence of whales off the coast of San Diego, as they made their journey a little further south into the birthing waters off the coast of Mexico. As the whales travel this route each year, there comes the life-affirming assurance that comes from the cycles of life: Even mountains move, the desert blooms and whales travel 10,000 miles, the distance to the moon and back, to have their babies. In the Sonoran Desert -- where the desert meets the sea -- life continues to offer its awe-inspiring lessons and legacy.

Photo top: During the recent Agua Caliente Native Film Fest, which honored Tantoo Cardinal, the film 'Desert Dreams: Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert,' was screened.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell, for permission to repost
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