One weekend in the Mojave Desert goes a long way.
In terms of relaxation, it’s probably equal to six days at home, on the couch, drinking organic vegetable smoothies and green tea, while reading Eckhart Tolle’s books with whale sounds in the background. That’s how it felt when we got back.
I’ve wanted to see the desert since we moved to southern California in 2013, but the right time and opportunity hadn’t presented itself. Joshua Tree National Park is the Holy Land of desert destinations, too, shrouded in tales about artists who’ve gone there to speak with aliens and the dead, write mad poetry using snake tails and blue tree sap, and baptize themselves in fiery sunsets. I didn’t have any plans to get too weird , but the idea of finding out why it came to be known as such a cosmic mecca was definitely on my mind.
So, we picked a weekend and made it a priority. Some buttons were pushed, levers pulled, and we quickly found a reasonably priced one-bedroom palace in the Surprise Valley, about twenty minutes from the park, tucked into the dusty background. This would be our home-base for the next forty-eight hours, which we spent doing some of the most memorable walking, chilling, looking, and pontificating I’ve done.
Indian Cove was a good place to start. There is free day access for non-campers and the drive around gives you a nice window into to the surreal canvas you’ve entered. Campsites are seated at the foot of these immense rock formations; you don’t realize how big the boulders are until you look up and see ant-sized people climbing across them.
Into The Joshua Tree National Park
It’s easy to get caught up in cliche’s when trying to describe the park. The sea of iconic Joshua Trees spread across the Dalian desert plains, offset by those immense boulders that look like set pieces in the Never Ending Story – see, it just happens. But for good reason. You feel like you’re tripping your face off when you’re stone cold sober.
No matter where you go, you climb. The rocks are asking for it; the formations request it. From baby rocks suited to kids and people with a fear of heights (myself included in that category), to deadly serious, full-on rock climbing experts and crazies, there’s something for everyone. The thing is, the two levels bleed into each other and it’s easy to start pushing yourself once you get to a neat viewing point. Watch your bravery level and keep one foot on the ground, so to speak, when assessing your ability to climb back down. Or carry a whistle.
The 1.3 mile trail at Barker Dam gives you a nice walk, blending good viewing points with interesting historical sites, including some Native American petroglyphs that have been preserved in a nook at the end of the trail. There’s a sign nearby, asking people to keep an eye out for vandalistic idiots who’ve taken it upon themselves to paint over the petroglyphs. Some people, hey?
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In the late 1880’s, a band of crooked cowboys started using Hidden Valley as a halfway house for cattle they’d stolen in Arizona. There, they’d rebranded the cattle and lead them to the coast, where they’d flip the livestock to Californian farmers for a profit.
As we walked around this incredible hiding place, surrounded by giants and spacey cycads, I couldn’t help thinking about what a pain in the ass it must have been to be a cattle thief. I’m sure it was completely radical being out there with buddies, stressing about getting caught with a herd of ill-gotten farm animals, but Jesus… it could have been a lot more awesome to have just gone there to enjoy the stars, the fresh air and the tranquility.
Hands down the best family camping spot. The campsites are scattered around some smaller, more easily accessible rocks that probably settle the nerves of more neurotic parents with little kids.
On our last night there we saw a comet shoot across the night sky. It was bloody amazing. If I had a snake tail and a jar of blue tree sap handy, I’d have written a Haiku or a poem about it.
Getting out of the city every once in a while is essential for keeping your sanity in tact. It was a downer leaving after two nights, having only scratched the surface of what the Mojave Desert has to offer, but that’s the hallmark of a decent trip.