“Don’t touch the cactus.” The woman’s cautious tone bounced off the granite walls of Wonderland of Rocks. “Don’t touch the cactus!” she said, this time louder for she was quickly drowned out by the sound of high-pitched children’s laughter and babbling.

Four of us were sitting high up on a boulder contemplating the geological formations surrounding us as the group of three adults and several small children—ages 4 to 8—came into view. We had just finished our hike and had paused to take in the sunshine and marvel at the geological “miracle” at play.

Located in Joshua Tree National Monument, Wonderland of Rocks is an incredible network of jumbled granite formations. It’s a destination for avid hikers, rock climbers and geology enthusiasts. I had always thought of myself as more of an ocean person rather than a desert person. I grew up near it, love water activities and the ocean’s restorative properties. But when I spend any time in the desert I take to it instantly. There’s something so calming about the arid landscape. Yet it also has this weirdly sinister vibe that I find intoxicating and scary. No doubt because the desert can easily kill you.

The lively family rounded a bend and disappeared. We heard their chatter continue. It sounded like they’d found a place to stop and picnic for the adults gave instructions to the kids to help spread out a blanket.

“Don’t touch the cactus!” the woman, presumably one of the mothers, repeated. There was a brief moment of silence. Then suddenly, a shriek followed by agonized crying. My group shared a chuckle. That’s the thing about the desert, sometimes … you just have to touch the cactus.