Since my earliest years, I have always harbored an obsession with imaginary boundaries, arbitrary points of interest, and other such foolish catalysts of human history. One of my earliest memories recalls a plush globe given to me by my parents. My mom pointed to a location on the globe and said, “This is where we live. California.” From that I assumed the neighbor’s driveway was Arizona, and the house across the street was Nevada, and thus began my age of exploration. You have to be careful with children.
I remember once on a road trip to Oregon, while in my youth, I requested that my father drop me off about a hundred yards from the state line so I could enjoy the sensation of crossing the border on foot. It was exhilarating, but part of me was expecting a change of air, perhaps a breeze to justify this imaginary division as insisted upon by men. The speed limit dropped to 55 mph, but the air was the same. There was no euphoric blast of Oregonian spirit beneath my feet.
And thus is the disillusionment that comes with maturity. Foolish dreams become disappointing realities. There is no end of a rainbow. Clouds neither feel nor taste like marshmallows. The sky is as blue or gray on one side of a border as it is on the other. And yet, even with the knowledge of how arbitrary it all is, we are still drawn to this imaginary intrigue of arbitrary points as if childlike fantasies were still appropriate in agedness. It’s why the Navajo Nation can charge you three dollars to see Four Corners, and for some reason it doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Although my obsession with these metaphysical realities has never really waned, I began to see it as a sort of delusion that must be counteracted by an equally strong obsession with concrete, undeniable realities.
Geography. Valleys and mountains. Ecosystems. Real, identifiable features that can be touched, climbed, and conquered. Barriers and superlatives brought here by Mother Earth, and not by the whims of lesser men.
This led me to the Cima Dome.
The Cima Dome could be the least prominent mountain in the whole Western USA, but I was not drawn to it for its height. I was drawn to it for the peculiarity of its form. I saw it on a topographic map while planning an excursion out in the Mojave Desert, and I knew I had to see it live. When I did, my mind was blown.
It is a perfectly smooth, broad cone protruding from a valley floor in the Mojave Desert. It is so gradual that one might not even notice it while driving by, but it converges from the far reaches of the desert onto a point on top of which one can claim to be at the at the summit of a peak, and yet also on the ground at the same time. I have mountaineered in my day, but never have I been so hungry to conquer such a paradoxical piece of earth.
I assembled my expedition of outdoor-enthusiast friends and we embarked on our expedition to the Cima Dome.
Truth be told, I lied to my compatriots. I told them the hike was to Teutonia Peak (pictured above), a mountain to which there exists a well-marked trail whose summit is not far from the main road. The Cima Dome is on the other side of Teutonia Peak, and I was not going to pass up my opportunity to conquer it.
When we finally got to the top of Teutonia Peak, I pointed out yonder to the Cima Dome. “Who wants to join me in conquering this mighty beast?” “Conquer what?” “Yonder.” And across from Teutonia Peak, as clear as the ground, lay the Cima Dome. Close, but distant. Vague. Unchartered.
“Uh… no thanks.”
“Is there a trail that goes there?”
“Yeah… no thanks.”
Driven to desperation, I abandoned my group of comrades and bushwhacked my way across the vast Mojave Desert up the gradual slope of the Cima Dome. My party, plagued with indulgent concern and resigned to give into my foolish whims, followed behind, and we made our way across the treacherous terrain towards whatever summit there might have been. I envisioned reaching a point at which I would no longer be hiking upward, and that the sensation of having achieved the maximum height would indicate success. From that spot, as I imagined it, I would have a 360-degree view of the entire desert floor, and I would promptly throw my hands to the sky and hell, “Eureka! I have conquered what might as well be the top of the world!”
The bushwhacking got thicker. My compatriots stopped. “Yeah, you go on ahead. We’re done. We’ll wait for you here. Don’t die.”
So I went on, dreaming of that glorious summit, standing atop the great Mojave, laughing at the peons below. But then something terrible happened: the trees thickened, the ground evened out, and I could no longer figure out if I was still going up. I looked around. No view. No point of perceivable maximum height. No euphoric sensation of victory. I was standing on a flat piece of earth, cold and indifferent.
I returned to my party.
“Did you make it to the top?”
“I think so.”
“Cool. Let’s go home.”
There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Clouds feel like nothing. A ponderosa pine in Oregon is no different than a ponderosa pine in California. Music is nothing more than vibrations in the air. Love is a biological reaction. Sex is a cheap thrill. Gelato is ice cream. Serbian and Croatian are the same language. Mars has no life. Grass is never really that comfortable to lie on. Bacon is only pretty good. And the Cima Dome has no perceivable summit.
But I want to believe. I still do, in fact. And I will. No amount of adulthood is going to stop me. There is something greater in our world behind the banalities that disguise it, beyond the facades of disillusionment that make our lives teetering on the brink of hopeless boredom, and we must continue to pursue it, desire it, believe in it, even if that greater metaphysical spirit is our desire itself for it to be so.
And hey, at least I got this sweet picture of me standing on a sand dune without pants!
(Special thanks to BackRoadsWest.com for providing me with some of the pictures above. If any of you are interested in exploring the Mojave Desert, I recommend you check out their blog at http://www.backroadswest.com/trips/ )