For Valentine's Day, I took myself to Joshua Tree National Park. From where I am, in La Quinta, it took about an hour and a half to drive to the main park entrance just outside Yucca City. I wanted the whole experience, so I started at the main visitor center. I knew there was an entrance into the park not for from where I was, but I decided I would drive through the whole thing, if I could. And do at least one manageable hike.
What I didn't know is that due to President's Day, entry to the park was free. Bonus! Immediately the beauty of the rocks pushing up through the ground and the miles of Joshua trees marching on struck me with their otherworldly beauty, and I had to pull over for photos. I saw faces staring back at me, could feel the oldness of the tumbled rocks, as if some giant had been clearing the land and dumped the rocks where they lay. I could feel the ancient pull of this primal landscape, a complete stark contrast to the lush green of Ireland. I felt a little like I was on Mars. Blue sky, orange rocks, baked earth. Lizards skittering this way and that to get out of my path.
The park straddles the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and you can see the difference once you cross that invisible line. The Joshua trees virtually disappear, and the mountains rise up, little more than jumbled piles of rocks. The sky was doing incredible things, and it seemed every time I drove around the next bend, it was a new breathtaking view. No wonder it took me six hours to drive up and around through the park.
I did stop and do the mile loop to Barker Dam. Smartly, I decided not to wear or bring sunscreen. But, that's okay, because I'll be more tan than anyone in Oregon for the entire rest of the year. Apparently, they tried cattle ranching in this area at one point. Though what in God's name would possess anyone to do that, I cannot rightly say. It was fun scrambling around and through boulders back to the dam. Even got a chance to view some ancient petroglyphs, though they had unfortunately been outlined in paint. And, some idiot decided to carve he and his girlfriend's initials on one of the trees skin, scratching the bark away to get at the tender pulp inside. If there would have been a ranger at the trail head, I would have turned him in. That's not okay.
I enjoyed the spots in the park most where the people were not, obviously. Every now and then, it would be absolutely still and quiet, with only the hot, desert breeze to keep me company. I took some time to walk out in the desert, find a sloped, flat rock to sit on and take my shoes and socks off. I had this great desire to feel the heat of the earth beneath my bare feet, the sand, the rocks and to imagine this place a thousand years ago, and maybe even thousands of thousands before that.
It was a beautiful day. I am so grateful to be having all these varied experiences. I find as I get out in nature more, it feeds me and I crave it. Nature keeps me grounded, and absorbs the restless energy I feel, helps me create. Quiets my mind when I get tired of the ceaseless buzz of incessant noise from people and machines.
I wound my way down through the mountain passes and across the valley towards the I10 and La Quinta. I cannot imagine having crossed this space of land in a wagon, on horseback, or even on foot. They say to take a gallon of water per person, and it's true! You need it! I nearly consumed 2 litres myself mostly just driving around the park. The desert is a very unforgiving harsh land, but still beautiful for all that.
I cannot wait to get home and start to do more exploring in my own backyard. And though I appreciate the desert's beauty and warmth, I miss the trees and the mountains, the ocean, the rivers. I now turn my attention to the many textures and layers of the landscape at home, and the exploring I can do when I get back. It seems this is not the end of my adventuring, but barely the beginning.