Another Planet Essay Tiptoeing at the Edge of Civilization by Bill Wheelock Can we ever record our first impressions? Photography has promised to enable just that: from the opening of the American Midwest advertised with the works of the US Geological Survey in the mid 1800s to man's first steps on the moon. Documents of personal frontiers are the most common: vacation destinations inscribed, "Wish you were here," on the inverse. Few places on our planet remain unaltered by man, but Joshua Tree National Park is one of them. There is no evidence that vistas of this inhospitable and strange park have changed appreciably since its discovery by Native Americans generations before colonization. Traveling to a foreign culture is mysterious enough. Uprooting one's self from the familiar immediately prompts questions regarding the satisfaction of basic human needs, social etiquette, and peculiar behavior of the natives. Travel to a foreign land thousands of years old with a self-sustaining ecosystem apparently absent of any human intervention strikes the contemporary traveler's ego as almost unearthly, despite the fact that nothing could be farther from the truth. To questions of basic survival, the land is mute. No signage directs us to plumbing, restaurants, or hotels. The American desert has shocked European aesthetes with the exact opposite of the horror vacui of visual culture with which they are more at home. The Sahara is well known for producing religious leaders among those who survive loosing their moorings in its vastness. Likewise, America's "wasteland" produces a kind of rapture, for it is not devoid of beauty. In fact, everywhere are signs that read "wish you weren't here," in a language older than any alphabet. Not the aggressive "Keep Away," of military bases or faulty mine-shafts, but a quiet, insistent voice whispered like the Sirens at sea from every immobile granite boulder, perfectly sculpted by no human hand. Every prickly cactus spine thriving on unattainable, yet somehow adequate, irrigation. The song is contagious until you wish even the occasional indicators of human life would vanish: the road you came in on; discreet trash barrelsâ€™ overflowing candy wrappers; graffiti that says, like it or not, "I was here." Self-abnegation is a force ever only temporarily resisted in this place. In obeisance, you know you cannot stay any more than you can live in the bottom of the sea or on Mars. You may try to leave the faintest impression - a footprint, strewn litter, a painted name - but the effort remains absurdly fugitive beside the durability of the most humble shrub. The impression left on you cuts deep. The memories of this place are not the memories of the person you were before. What you leave there, the first time you visit, is your ignorance. Whatever you try to bring back ends up colored with the stress of re-entry.