Experiences suggested by readers for the Bucket List are almost always intense and overwhelming physical or intellectual confrontations. Such suggestions humble and intimidate readers.

Dropping earthward with an unopened parachute tends to focus the mind to the exclusion of everything. Other suggestions propose equally intense challenges; not as physically overwhelming but intellectually confounding. In all cases the “take away” is a sense of awe. Those experiencing the moments have opened a door and see into a vista, a glimpse of a wilder, wider experience. You feel alive, if only because you survived the challenge.

For our first Bucket List column we wanted to look at something affordable — and achievable.

The desert experience can be replicated in many places around the world. Nearby, we can all find an area of extreme geography,where the weather and terrain combine to present formidable challenges to life. These places seem barren at first, with vitality scraped away. Inhospitable if not hostile.

Closer looks reveal many things, sometimes small but powerful miracles which demonstrate the complexity and power of nature and the amazing ingenuity of the drive to survive.

Near Palm Desert, California is the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. A few paragraphs from the excellent website provide some flavor of the place and of the experience:

“If you want to know these mountains, there’s no better guide than J. Smeaton Chase, an Englishman who toured the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains in 1915 with his burro, Mesquit. Chase was baked senseless by the stupefying heat. His coffee cup was blown away by ‘the pestilent wind’ ripping through the San Gorgonio Pass. He was evicted from his coyote skin sleeping bag by a flash flood down Chino Canyon.
“Out there is a teeming world of hidden waterfalls, rockhounds, mystics, hermits, botanists, rattlesnake researchers, nomadic artists, Indian artifacts, and more than 500 plant species, each with a personality you could spend a lifetime getting to know. Want to meet a Tahquitz ivesia or a San Jacinto prickly phlox? You’ll only find it here.
” ‘Resources’ would include the wild bighorn lamb, Ambrosia, whose life was saved atop Bradley Mountain by a sheep researcher applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And Manuel Hamilton, chairman of the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians, who can tell you about making bone arrows and collecting healing teas as a boy up on Cahuilla Mountain, an area the Ramonas deems a sphere of influence to the national monument.”

This was all a new world and a new environment for me. It was hot, dry, clear as a bell, dusty, rock hard and craggy. Signs of extreme weather were everywhere. I felt completely exposed.

Guides are necessary and excellent. Our guides showed us things we would miss in trying to stay alive. Contrary to first impressions, there is life everywhere. Bit by bit, you come to realize that, through extraordinary and complex small miracles, plants and animals have developed facilities and symbiotic and adaptive relationships to survive, despite all odds. Plants have learned to change color to camouflage, hide from and then trap insects. Plants assist other plants in the germination of seeds or in the preservation of moisture. A new universe to learn about and observe is offered to you.

But it’s when you start to think about the “how” that it hits home. What has caused and developed all of this? What is behind these small and intricate plants and organisms that have learned to work in a system to survive?

If you think about these kinds of things you will have a Bucket List moment, an extraordinary instant when all else around you diminishes to detail and you come face to face with the inexplicable.

This video says it all. Enjoy.