One of our most popular programs at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is the Moonlight Stroll. Once a month, since winter of 2006, we’ve led groups of 20 visitors up a remote arroyo, guided by the light of the full moon.
Because the moon rises earlier, but still illuminates as distinctly, we schedule our walks the night before the full moon from November through February. “Why don’t you have a hike in March?” visitors often ask when sign up sheets are full.
“The sun sets later then, and the moon rises later,” Chuck tells them. In case that’s not enough to convince them, he adds, “And rattlesnakes become active.” Although Chuck usually tells visitors that rattlesnakes rarely hunt in the light of a full moon, he does indicate that they are nocturnal. The thought of encountering a venomous snake is chilling enough for most visitors; encountering one after dark, regardless how brightly the moon shines, deters even many snake lovers.
Most people bring flashlights on the Moonlight Stroll, but generally don’t need to use them. The moon shines on the rock walls, lighting them as much as the glow of sunrise, and casts shadows as distinct as daytime. Maneuvering among smoke trees, alongside creosote bushes, and around boulders is not a problem in the remote canyon of what we have named the “B Wash.”
Recent rains and cloudy days have been unusual for the Yuma area. A slight haze blanketing the full moon can dim the light by which we travel, and although we’ve yet had to cancel a Moonlight Stroll, the possibility always looms until the last minute if clouds threaten to obscure the sky.
That threat especially concerned us this past full moon when four inches of rain flooded the desert one week before, then remained mostly cloudy up to the night before our Moonlight Stroll. But the hike day dawned with a sparkling blue sky and remained crystal clear for the first time since the floods. Moderate temperatures greeted our visitors that evening, and we enjoyed the most pleasant Stroll of the season.
During our Strolls, as we work our way a half mile up the wash toward a deep overhang in a rock wall, we stop occasionally to discuss nocturnal critters. An owl may hoot in the distance, and coyotes have serenaded us in the past. For the most part, however, silence encircles and caresses us as if a weight has been lifted from our souls. Once at our farthest destination, we encourage visitors to stand quietly for one minute, engulfed in the beauty and stillness surrounding them.
As Joseph Conrad wrote in Lord Jim, “There is something haunting in the light of the moon. It has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.”