Adventure

Journal: Joshing Around in Joshua Tree

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Words and photos by Steph Wright.

It started out as all talk, like most things do. Could we really get ten of us down to California and out to Joshua Tree for the weekend? I tend to get anxious when a big project like this comes up but I quickly learned that this wasn’t my thing, it was ours, and we all wanted to make this trip happen. So, we chose a weekend, bought plane tickets and divided up the trip planning responsibilities. Before we knew it we had rental cars, a place to sleep and a loose plan. Then, we anxiously awaited departure day like Christmas morning.

 

“Sometimes I even find myself hoping for something to go wrong because of the story that comes out of it.”

 

After a 3 AM wakeup call, a few coffees and a lost bag, the ten of us stood outside LAX, sleep deprived but amazed. After long Seattle and Denver winters, all ten of our schedules had magically aligned so we could meet here, some for the first time. After the usual greetings and laughs, we hopped in the car and hit the road.

It wouldn’t be a successful trip if things didn’t go as planned, however. Sometimes I even find myself hoping for something to go wrong because I enjoy the challenge it brings and the story that comes of it. This time around our patience would be tested. From Los Angeles, our two-and-a-half-hour trip to Joshua Tree turned into a five-hour stop and a turtle’s race to the desert. Los Angeles traffic is no joke, even when you’re miles outside of the city. In desperate need of a break, we made a pit stop on the outskirts of Cabazon. There we were able to stretch our legs, grab snacks and run around with some scaly new friends.

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We made it to Jumbo Rocks Campground just after sunset. We ascended on our campsite like a flock of hungry birds and immediately started setting up and cooking dinner. Then, we sat around the campfire devouring some of the best sweet potato tacos of our lives. The rest of the night was spent sipping on whiskey and laughing deliriously at each other’s jokes until the fire died and sleep called us to our tents one by one.

 

“This park is an adult playground where the trees appear planted by Dr. Seuss and your feet stick to the rocks like Velcro. It was created to explore.”

 

The next day we woke up without a plan. If I’ve learned anything about Joshua Tree, it’s that you don’t necessarily need one to experience the park. To point us in the right direction, we referred to some of those online travel forums and park brochures for a few of the “must see” spots, like Cyclops Rock and the Hall of Horrors. We took a short hike on the Hidden Valley Trail, spotting wildflowers, different cactus species and sleeping lizards. The wind greeted us with a vengeance at Keys View, where we enjoyed hazy views of Palm Springs in Coachella Valley and the towering peak of Mount San Jacinto in the distance.

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My advice? Pick one of the many random pullouts that line the road throughout Joshua Tree and park your car.  Go walk through the trees or scramble up boulders and look closely at the small beauties this quirky desert landscape holds. The park is an adult playground where the trees appear planted by Dr. Seuss and your feet stick to the rocks like Velcro. It’s otherworldly and it was created to explore.

Some of my fondest memories of our trip were the in-between moments, not often captured on a camera: playing with a Vortex football in the campground, mimicking the unique shapes of the Joshua Trees with our limbs, making bad jokes. We spent the next couple of days exploring the park like this, as well as venturing into the actual town of Joshua Tree.

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For lunch, the ten of us sat in a circle in the Natural Sisters Cafe parking lot, sipping on bee-pollen smoothies, eating kale chips and discussing the health benefits of random spices and oils. We rummaged through weird stones, clothes and souvenirs at the Joshua Tree Store and perused hidden treasures at The End vintage shop. Before our trip, everyone had told us how amazing the sunsets were in the park so, on our final night, we made sure we were back at camp before the sun went down. We bundled up, grabbed some beverages and scurried up the biggest rocks we could find just in time to watch the sky catch fire above a sea of Joshua trees.

 

“To experience the park, you must come with a childlike curiosity and good company.”

 

The next morning, we left with wind-swept hair, dusty Original Premiers and Alps, and big smiles. At the end of it, we weren’t only there to see Joshua Tree, we were there to meet new friends, catch up with the old, and connect over each other’s stories, quirks and insights. That unique desert landscape was a playground for us to do that on. There is so much to see in Joshua Tree National Park and I believe that some detailed checklist of “must see” places isn’t the best way to get acquainted. To experience the park, you must come with a childlike curiosity and good company. Next time, make plans to not make plans and embrace the journey and stories that come of it.

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