I’m kind of obsessed with the desert.
Ever since I was a little girl growing up on the east coast — where winters meant trudging through blackened city slush and summers enduring swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes — National Geographic images of saffron-hued desert landscapes like Canyon de Chelly and Arches National Park were my own version of celestially illuminated fluffy clouds.
There’s something supremely mystical to me about the juxtaposition of electric blue skies, saturated sunlight, dramatic geologic formations and arid earth — and the flora and fauna badass enough to make such a seemingly inhospitable environment home. And let’s not forget the exceptional hair weather.
Over the years, I’ve made pilgrimages to desert wonderlands across North America.
I’ve hiked amongst the otherworldly stalagmites of Bryce Canyon and stood 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley. I’ve delicately run my fingertips along the smooth, water-carved canyon walls of Zion National Park and marveled at the magnificence of saguaro and cardón cacti in southern Arizona and Baja California Sur. I’ve spent many blissful days frolicking on boulders amidst Joshua trees, and cavorting in the playland that is Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
My most recent journey to the desert, however, was a little more — um —civilized.
It had been decades since I last sat in the stands of a professional tennis tournament, so I was especially grateful when my dear college friends whom I had not seen in two years and their family (scattered between Hawaii, New York and San Diego) invited me to join them at the BNP Paribas Open.
Just over two hours east of Venice, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden seemed a world away. The chilly coastal morning air that had fogged my car windows soon gave way to the unrelenting Mojave Desert sun. By the time I had picked my ticket up at the will call booth and joyously hugged Barb and Ian, it was hot — sunscreen-and-sweat-stinging-your-eyeballs hot — which made the snow-covered peaks in the background all the more spectacular.
And then there’s the world-class tennis.
Held every March since 1979 (under a variety of sponsorship-related names), the BNP Paribas Open is one of professional tennis’ most prestigious tournaments, after the four Grand Slams (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open). Despite the Williams sisters’ famous boycott (10 years and counting) over alleged racial slurs, the tournament remains — aside from the Grand Slams — the most widely attended in the world.
Dotted around stadium grounds replete with international cuisine food stands, bars, live music and a tree-shaded grassy respite, the courts were easily accessible and full of fans.
By day, we sat — completely schvitzing — around center court, watching Kim Clijsters battle it out with Marion Bartoli before retiring with a shoulder injury, and Roger Federer gracing the court while handily defeating Juan Ignacio Chela.
As the welcome air of evening arrived, we sat mere meters away from Jelena Jankovic, Anastasia Pavylyuchenkova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko as they played a lively — and remarkably vociferous — game of doubles. (Let’s just say I may have blushed the first time I heard Azarenka pummel a forehand.)
And somewhere in between, we took a break and cooled down.
Most importantly, we talked and laughed and spent some precious, long overdue time catching up on each other’s lives.
And as we walked briskly back to the car with the promise of a delicious dinner ahead, I knew there was a lot of love flowing that day in the desert — both on and off the court.