A Day in the Desert

Dawn
By Dave Ganci
  |  Gorp.com
Sonoran Desert scene
Spend a day in the Arizona desert

Bzzt! Yawn. Your wristwatch alarm tells you it's 4:00 a.m. Yawn. You start to doze off and are slightly awakened by the soft cooing of doves, and then brusquely awakened by the ta-ta-tat of the cactus wren. Soon a symphony of birdcalls, including the mockingbird's and the quail's, keeps you awake now. They are carrying on early morning conversation as they head for water. Birds are the desert's alarm clock.

You rouse your family — and put on your woolies. It is the coolest part of the day. You heat up some tea to get yourselves going and to wash down the granola you'll eat for breakfast.

First light is appearing as you head for Boulder Canyon, in Arizona's Superstition Wilderness. It is silver light, cold light, and it dims the starlight. The rocks and sand around you have released their heat energy during the night. Everything is still. Lizards, snakes, and toads are buried in the sand, in crevices and in holes under the desert floor. Their bodies are not warm-blooded so they must wait until things warm up before they can start their day.

While you all were sleeping back at camp, other warm-blooded animals were prowling the night in their endless search for one another. Now that dawn is approaching, the coyote, bobcat, fox, civet cat, and skunk are on the lookout for last-minute snacks before the heat of the day forces them into rest and shade. Deer that had come down from the upper ranges during the night for warmth and water are heading back up to cool country. Javelinas are snuffling and digging for prickly pear fruits and roots.

The predawn colors are now on display: pink, green, silver, and red shafts of light pulling the sun up over the horizon. As the first orange rays cast long, eerie, black shadows, the desert day shift begins. The temperature changes that will occur during the next twenty-four hours will be more extreme than those of any other natural habitat on earth. There may be differences of as much as eighty degrees, more than twice the average daily temperature variation in the United States. These extremes have led to the tremendous varieties of desert plants and animals. Millions of evolutionary years have taught these living things to react instinctively to the extremes of heat and cold.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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