Dust to Dust

At the top of the Chocolate Mountains in Ocotillo’s backyard lies an ancient sea bed.


It is not an easy ascent, almost straight up the mountain. The mountain paths should be solid, traversed for thousands of years as trade routes, but deceivingly, the nearly eroded pebbles and shale loosen their last weak grip on the sloping paths and slide out from under your feet. Sand feels like more solid ground than this. 


When you reach the top and enter what is left of the actual ocean floor the change is instantaneous. This part of the mountain is protected from the harsh whipping winds. Your breath catches for an instant. Something is different, but you can’t decide what. The space is enclosed and intimate. You begin to relax. It is quiet. Like a hush you can feel. This is ancient land.


Leveraging for a better view I climbed a nearby pile of rocks. I was interested in white oyster shells as big as your hand that created a semi-circle highlighted against the dark desert varnish, the deep, amber color of thousand-year old sun-roasted rocks. Why was it such a perfect line?

Clear delineation between desert varnish and oysters shells.


Moving among the rocks, I glanced down to check my footing. It wasn’t rocks.




It was coral. Taking it in for a moment I realized this was a coral head. You could see it clearly then: the line of oysters were outlining a separate coral head about 20 feet away. Between them, where the desert varnish lay flat, would be the sandy bottom where the rays forage for dinner.


Looking down at the fossils in the coral was almost exactly like snorkeling on Grand Turk, bobbing at the surface while admiring the life below…. only some 3 million years later. I thought it ironic that this little museum team has gone from ocean to desert, but we were practically still swimming. Swimming at the top of the mountain.


The sea bed slowly, silently tumbles downhill.

Traveling farther into the sea bed, erosion takes over again and you can see that the whole sea bed is sliding down the other side of the hill. The kinetic energy is palatable though everything is still. The land is falling. One good shove will start the whole thing crashing down.


The effect is so convincing that I tested with a hearty shove a one-ton boulder, paused precariously mid-tumble over a 3foot spit of land. Clearly visible on the ledge were fossils. Fossils that will soon be pulverized by the rolling boulder, lost forever.


I fancy myself the last person who will ever admired them.

Last person to see the million year old fossils out on this ledge. Ocotillo in the background.

One Response to Dust to Dust

  1. I’ve said the same to Neal. The desert is the seabed, without water. Not just the coral, but the plants, the rocks, the landscape.