The wealth of dust certainly provided a reminder that there was little to no grass beneath each marcher's feet, and the daily erratic swings between sweltering heat and stifling cold certainly didn't help.
This dry, lifeless terrain is where Blue Devils are born. This is Mars.
The rocky, dusty and cracked rehearsal setting that earned its name for looking and feeling eerily similar to the Red Planet has been a Blue Devils staple since before the corps won its first of 17 DCI World Championship titles.
“Everybody's been to Mars,” Blue Devils CEO Justin Heimbecker said. “That's the one thing everybody has in common. If you can survive Mars, the summer tour is a breeze after that. That's been the mantra.”
Now, after having lasted through the better part of four decades, Mars' recent makeover has it looking a bit more like Planet Earth thanks to a unique fundraising campaign run by the Blue Devils organization.
The fundraiser, which went toward laying new natural grass at the stadium, allowed Blue Devils fans and alumni to sponsor specific grids on the field, giving each sponsor a special connection to his or her donation.
“I think in one day, we had about $25,000 of contributions, with alumni just pouring their hearts out about what their spot meant to them,” Heimbecker said. “I heard people say, ‘I stood here for my opening set in 1978,' or, ‘I stood here for my solo in 1984.' Some donated squares in memory of people who have passed away.”
In response to such a generous output from the corps' fan base and former members, the Blue Devils held “Mars Day” on the morning of May 27, allowing donors to see the new field for the first time and stand on the spots they donated.
According to Heimbecker, although it may have not lasted very long, the ceremony bridged a connection between members of this year's corps and those who marched in years past.
“As the grass is going down, and we're lining it for the first time, and we're mowing it for the first time, we said, ‘There's an opportunity here to take this experience up one more level,'” he said. “We saw the love and the outpouring of memories, so why wouldn't we invite people to stand on their spot?”
“At least while it's still green,” Heimbecker added, with a laugh. “Before the corps eats it into the ground for the next month."
Such a process that transfused the Blue Devils' history and alumni with a bright future on a stunning new practice field came at the perfect time, as the corps celebrates is 60th anniversary this season.
“Everything we're doing this year really revolves around past, present, future,” Heimbecker said. “From the show, to the fundraising campaigns, to the field, to the merchandise, to our anniversary gala at the end of this month, everything revolves around taking a look back, appreciating where you are, and also looking forward.”
With the corps' 2017 production, “Metamorph,” the Devils aim to further build that connection between history and future, as the “#devilution” shows itself not only on Mars, but on football fields across the country.
“We use the word ‘Metamorph' in the show,” Heimbecker said. “Quite literally the Mars field was 'metamorphing' and the organization is 'metamorphing', and that's really what it's all about.”
As far as how preparations for this 60th anniversary season have gone over the last several weeks since the corps began its all-day spring training rehearsals, Heimbecker has been considerably pleased with his corps' progress.
With just over half of the show on the field, he mentioned that the production continues to change and develop between several of the Blue Devils' creative minds.
“It's very collaborative, very integrative, it's cohesive,” he said of the design and learning process. “I think it's a little slower on the front end because of the time it takes to really get traction on the show, but I think as a result of the process, you end up with a great product.”
And with a brand new field on which to develop the 60th edition of DCI's winningest ensemble, there's undoubtedly an abundance of life left to be discovered on Mars.
"Mars is level and green and lush I think for the first time ever," Heimbecker said. "We're trying to connect past and future, and that's where we are right now, we're in the present. It fits somewhat symbolically with everything that's going on with the organization."