Growing up in Arkansas, I was accustomed to gentle mountains covered in trees. Lakes, filled to the brim with sparkling water. All in stark contrast to what surrounds me in San Diego County.

On my first trip to Anza Borrego Desert, just two hours northeast of San Diego, I was agog at how different the landscape was from what I was used to. Slot canyons made of sand that crumbled at the touch wound around like a psychedelic dream. Ancient riverbeds — or even ocean beds — lay flat below sharp craggy rockmountains.

We camped that first trip. The camping, too, was opposite what I knew (safe campsites with nearby toilets and electrical outlets). There, beady foxeyes illuminated in the not-so-distance, watching us as we drank around the campfire. We each picked out our favorite toilet — whatever rock semi protected us from view — taking a shovel to bury our remains. We spent our days wandering, not on trails, but by instinct. It was lovely.

The desert is a wild place. A beautiful place. It’s somewhere that I’ve gotten to know over the past few years, and have deep respect for.