And the naturally occurring rock archway, Mobius Arch, was truly a fascinating sight.
And if you take a photo of the arch from just the right angle, it acts as a round, rock frame for Mount Whitney.
After hiking the loop trail, we explored the many dirt roads stemming off Movie Road to find people camping in tents and campers among the brown boulders.
We also watched several rock climbers scaling the more impressive rocks.
We attempted to explore one more, less defined trail, which quickly seemed to fade into the desert.
Unperturbed, we clambered over boulders and explored crevasses, watching our feet for scorpions and snakes. It was my first time hiking in the desert, and I was thrilled to discover a number of different cacti growing alongside the dusty trail.
In fact, some of the cacti were in bloom, displaying bright pink and yellow flowers.
Then, a few minutes later, I discovered fine yellow spines protruding from my hands and legs.
We paused on the trail to pull them out, laughing at my folly.
As the trail wound through rocks, I could see how the area could be used to represent other planets.
In some places, the wind and sand had carved out perfectly rounded holes in the boulders.
But all I saw were lizards, darting up and over rocks, and hummingbird moths, large moths that hover over flowers, drawing nectar out with a long straw-like body in much the same way a hummingbird drinks nectar through its long beak and tongue.
After hours of walking in the sun (protected by plenty of sunscreen), we drove back into town to share a cold pitcher of beer and refuel on pizza at the Pizza Factory.
In the days to come, Derek and I would continue our explorations, driving through Death Valley to the lowest point of elevation in the country, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level.
The southwest is truly a beautiful place, but when all was said and done, I returned to Maine with a new appreciation for our dense forests and abundance of fresh, flowing water.
Mount Whitney through the arch.
A lizard I saw there.