For most of my hiking life, I was strictly goal-oriented. I looked for the easiest way to a peak or the deepest point in a canyon. It wasn’t until I started organizing and guiding with groups that I realized just how much I’d been missing. Once I slowed down, the Mojave became an entirely new desert.
Southern Nevada’s limestone is a 250-million-year-old treasure chest, and a keen, patient eye will spot countless fossils in the shale that hurrying hikers trot right past. On a spring trek to Gass Peak, a fellow hiker spotted a trailside rock the size of a coffee table, with a dozen obvious fossils in it. I’d traipsed past that rock at least five times, maybe even walked across it, and never noticed.
It’s not just sight, either. It turns out the Mojave has some of the best-smelling flora on the planet. Sagebrush gets all the press, but the lesser-known yerba santa, with its thin, leathery leaves, produces a heavenly scent reminiscent of peppermint and lavender. The hands-down winner: the creosote bush (above). Rub its tiny leaves between your hands to release the unmistakable aroma of desert rain. It’s glorious.
The most dramatic reward of slow hiking is, of course, the fauna. Eons of evolution have created animals that blend in so perfectly they’re hard to spot if you’re in a rush. Bighorn sheep roam craggy hillsides throughout Southern Nevada, and they stay above potential predators, including hikers. So slow down and look up.
On a human level, hiking at a leisurely pace brings people of all ages and abilities together. Even those who can fly up the trail can also slow down. You’ll have more breath for conversation, for exploring fellow humans while exploring the desert.
If you’re going to make the effort to venture into our wild lands, take the time to soak them in. Slow down.