I don’t enjoy the desert. To me it’s dull, lifeless and has an almost palpable feeling of death and depression. When you look out at the wide open expanse, there are beautiful mountains in the distance and the gorgeous colorful sunsets that take your breath away. But you first have to look at the dirt, shrubs and heat soaked land before you. Those mountains are so far away they seem as if they’re a goal that you’ll never reach. The brass ring. Unattainable. However, on a recent trip to Phoenix I got lucky enough to discover something new and extraordinary to love about the desert.
We were driving along a lonely and barren stretch of interstate outside Gila Bend, Arizona, in an area where seemingly nothing grows except dust storms, when my husband woke me from my day dreaming to point out that the road ahead of us was moving. Not moving under our car mind you, but rather something on the road was moving. I sat up and concentrated my gaze on the blacktop. He was right, there were some things out there, silhouetted against the rays of the setting sun, crawling across the road. What were they? Whatever they were, there were hundreds of them, possibly thousands. I asked him to pull over so we could investigate further. Once we stopped, I very slowly and tentatively opened the car door for fear of something jumping or flying up at me. What I saw delighted me. They weren’t snakes, tarantulas, roaches or worms as I had expected, all of which I’ve seen crossing these roads over the years. They were caterpillars. Huge caterpillars. Not the size of your pinkie finger. Nope. The size of your index finger and even bigger. They were crossing the highway in droves. It was a grunion run but with caterpillars. Astonishing and beautiful! They were bright green with yellow and black markings, each one unique. I jumped out of the car, being careful not to step on any of them, and grabbed my camera to capture this surprising scene. When I looked back and saw them on the road, they shimmered a little in the sunlight.
I’m glad we stopped when we did, because once we resumed our driving, less than a mile down the road, they were gone. It was really only about a one mile stretch where they were. If we hadn’t been paying attention we would probably have driven right by, and over them, with not another thought about it.
Even though I’m not a fan of the desert, I would love to go back and see the butterflies that those caterpillars are going to become. I’m certain, based on their size, they would be the largest butterflies I would ever see. For now I’ll just have to imagine the sight in my mind. A dirt and cactus covered desert with no signs of life except for the skies being filled with a thousand wings of color. The butterflies fluttering through the heat, breathing beauty, luminosity and amazing life into the desolation. I don’t know what the caterpillars were doing there, where they came from, or where they were going. But I’m really glad I saw them, especially since it made me realize that there is beauty here and possibly another reason to come back and explore the desert.