The wind ripped through San Gorgonio pass, clawing at me as I dropped nine thousand feet from the top of San Jacinto’s peak. It gave the impression of ownership, like it had clawed out the pass itself and considered the five-mile wide gap as its personal playground, a bullying ground for anything that dared enter.
The wind roared, spun, and danced through at will, swinging me back and forth as I walked across, under Interstate 10, and into the next chain of mountains.
The next chain, those words don’t describe the change. They make the two places sound similar. It was another world on the other side, a world of nothing.
No trees, no plants, no animals, as if the wind had torn away all life and left nothing but the dust swirling around me as I walked on.
The sun baked overhead. It was a wasteland. I looked around, searching for anything more than desolation, but there was nothing. Emptiness filled the vacuum around me. The landscape looked beautiful in its simplicity. Then, like picture coming together in pieces, I saw what was there. This wasn’t a wasteland. It was the burnt aftermath of a fire. It was a graveyard and I walked among the dead.
Charred skeletons rose to life, their twisted, black limbs all that remained of a forest. The rest was gone, burnt to ashes, then scattered by the howling wind. Death lingered in the air. The desolation continued into the horizon. My feet couldn’t carry me passed it before the sun slipped away.
I lay my sleeping bag between two skeletal trees and closed my eyes, the last living thing in the house of the dead.