Sonora, México

When I saw the morning sunrays of the third day over the ocean of dunes at the Gran Desierto de Altar in Mexico, I was certain that it would be a meaningful journey through the desert.

To get to this point we had already walked 43 km. That morning we broke up camp at 5 am and started walking so we could avoid the harshest hours of sun and thus dehydration. Before the sun rose and after it set, the stars guided our way. We constantly confirmed the route with our GPS, since in the absence of the moon there was no visual reference.

Apparently lifeless, humans are missing from the landscape, everything is wild and beautiful. The first two days of the hike consisted of crossing through a volcanic area, a field of granite cones and ridges with a floor crowded with basalt rocks and slabs. Extremely hostile to the feet, however, wonderfully dazzling in its black tones with dashes of golden colors, reddish and copper with inlaid quartz. The exuberant xerophilous vegetation of the desert is captivating, there is a peace transmitted through its silence and apparent lack of life.

The Gran Desierto de Altar and the Pinacate Volcanic Zone strike awe with its grandiose extension of rocks and lava flows, the tan and gold ripples of its dunes, tapestry of wildflowers, golden sunsets, and fiery sunrises.

I got to see countless species of birds. I have fond memories of a little butterfly that perched on the desert floor, and of a black and reddish colored lizard that came out from the ground when we were looking for a place to rest. We listened to far away coyote howls at night and during the morning of the last day. The whole time we enjoyed the west winds, winds that for many years have moved and shaped the dunes in this vast arid zone. Winds that caressed us giving us comfort on breaks while we ate and hydrated.

What does it take to spend three days in the desert without assistance? That was the question that determined my equipment, and thus the weight that I carried in my backpack. I had needed to carefully calculate what was necessary, since every gram in long walks weighs you down. I made calculations based on previous trainings in which I simulated the conditions to which we would be exposed. Based on this, I decided to carry eight litres of water for three days and three pounds of food. Once the important basic needs were covered, the rest consisted of camping equipment among other useful items. But staying alert, being attentive, observing and listening to nature while we move, during the calm of our rest stops, and during our sleep was a big must too.

These outdoor experiences were life-changing and motivated me to use photography as a means to try to transmit the connection and disconnection of the human being with nature. They inspired me to transition from doing recreational outdoor activities to going out with an objective in favour of conservation. It has led me to leverage my efforts and expertise in all of my activities: I joined community groups working on natural protected area restoration within the city, and I decided to study a Master’s degree in environmental psychology so I could add a human perspective to environmental issues. This path led me to become part of Asociación Mujeres y Conservación (Women and Conservation Association) so I can deposit my grain of sand in the vast area of conservation by empowering, highlighting, and supporting women conservationists in Latin-America. Just like those west winds that formed the millennial dunes that inspired my journey through the desert.

Sofía Vargas
Sofía is a psychologist by training, currently working on Environmental and Sustainability Psychology research. A fan of landscape photography and outdoor exploration. Environmental activist, co-founder of Colectivo Caminantes del Desierto and member of Grupo Pionero Espeleológico de Sonora.