Despite the somewhat hard ground, it felt good to be back outside, with fresh air, and open sky. Though the air conditioning had been nice, after three days in Las Vegas, it was sacred to be back in nature. Our friends from the night before were busy packing up their camp by the time I got out of mine to seek out the bathroom. They wanted to get out before a ranger stopped by and noticed that they hadn’t paid, so we said our goodbyes.
Soon Gianna was awake, and we drank our coffee and ate our breakfast. Joshua Tree National Park is dominated by large granite uprisings, and our camp was nestled amidst a few good sized ones. After breakfast, we scrambled up the highest of these to smoke a good morning to the beauty around us. Off in the distance, we could see something which looked exactly like a granite elephant from our angle.
Despite the relatively high speed limits within the park, we opted to forgo our jackets in deference to the higher temperatures. As I leaned the bike through the twisty park roads, I could help but feel the deep surreality of the place. It is as if Dr. Seuss was commissioned to design a national park, with all new plants and rocks. Huge granite boulders take shapes of whimsy, sculpted by their perpetual dance with the wind. Sometimes when the wind really gets going, you can see the massive rocks blowing apart, one grain at a time. The plants are completely otherworldly though. The Joshua Tree for which the park is named has a very high population within the park boundaries, including one region you could rightly call a forest. In case you are unaware, the Joshua Tree is a cactus which has evolved a woody trunk, and forms exactly the sort of wonky angular tree one would expect from a cactus.
I am consistently blown away by the incredible diversity of conditions and environments, and correspondingly life, on this planet. Joshua Tree alone has over 250 species of bird, including the Greater Roadrunner. We had ridden through a mountain coniferous forest, and now we were riding through a desert succulent forest, a rare sight indeed. We parked the bike, and began to hike into the Hidden Valley. Shielded from the high winds by even higher granite walls, the interior of the valley is a bastion of exotic life. There were plants with 4 foot bright yellow flowers, and teeny tiny desert apple shrubs with brilliant red bark. Even a shrubby form of Oak makes a home here. With all the food bearing plants, and the animals they support, it is no wonder native peoples also once inhabited this vibrant landscape.
Our next hike took us through the Joshua Tree forest. The spindly arms of the Joshua tree provide little shade, but they do look fucking awesome. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a fairly popular trail, and we frequently had our view of nature ruined by an invasive species of big noisy primates. We found some petroglyphs in a cave. Somebody had gone over them in color in more recent years, which I was kind of annoyed at. Now I’ll never get to see it in it’s original form. Remember kids, take only photographs, leave only footprints. Wilderness adventures should always be a leave-no-trace event. We enjoyed the cool interior of the small granite enclave until it became overrun with children, and parents eager to take that perfect family photo.
In my opinion, another must-see thing at Joshua Tree is the Cholla Cactus Garden. The Cholla Cactus Garden has hundreds of these very unique, incredibly needly cactus. You can see them in all stages of life and growth, and they are a very beautiful cactus to look at.
Trying to capture the majesty of any of the National Parks in words is akin to capturing the enormity of the ocean in a teaspoon of sand. If ever you are in doubt that there exists majesty and wonder in the world, go get reacquainted with Gaia. We’ve conveniently labeled 58 of them as National Parks here in our own nation, not to mention the almost 7,000 state parks. These are places worth preserving, worth experiencing. Though I was awestruck and deeply moved by my travels through these amazing locales, I was predominately left with a burning desire to return and give each place a full exploration. One day in a national park is mostly only enough to be left with a general feeling of what the place is like, but there’s no way to experience more than even a tiny fraction of what that unique geography has to offer in such a short time. That having been said, it’s still incredibly worthwhile even if you only have a day or two.
Though Joshua Tree doesn’t have running water to the vast majority of campsites, they do have water at each of the three entrances to the park. Also, unlike most other national parks, Joshua Tree has a fuckton of camping. Almost 500 sites means you don’t really need a reservation, making it a perfect place for an impromptu camping trips. It’s pretty easy to get away from people there, though, and everything is so vibrant and unique looking that it should make an excellent place for entheogenic spirit journeys as well. I long to come take peyote here.
We spent all day hiking, except the several hours we spent riding around. During the peak heat of the day, we made sure to be on the bike. At least it was cooler with the breeze. The park is very large, and takes over an hour to ride from one entrance to another. Most of the roads are actually unpaved, and had we been riding on a functioning rear shock, we would have gone to explore those too. As it was, we had a very full day just sticking to the paved roads and hikes under 5 miles. Like I said, it would be amazing to come back and spend some real quality time here, camping for a week or more, and hiking through the back country.
Near the Oasis Visitor’s Center is, you guessed it, an oasis. Huge palm trees feed from a nearby spring, and for a very small radius, the whole place is lush with vegetation, almost tropical except for the dry heat. We enjoyed a short hike through yet another amazing unique ecosystem. It is part of the beauty of deserts that they have many relatively small ecosystems, usually with each centered on a particular source of water. The more and more exotic life I find in this world, the more I become convinced of the inevitability of the discovery of life on other worlds.
The temperature stayed above 95 until the sun had gone all the way down, at which point it quickly dropped to a comfortable temperature. I remember eating two dinners that night, so hungry were we from the days exertions. The next day, we would ride the short distance to our friend Amy’s apartment in LA. I had been very young the last I was in LA, and we mostly went to Disney Land, and played video games, so I didn’t have a very clear idea of what it would be like. Either way, I was very excited to get to see Amy. It had been three weeks since I’d seen a familiar face other than Gianna, and I was starting to get a bit homesick. It had officially become the longest trip I’d ever embarked on, and it was only half over.
We spent a couple hours before bed just lying back on the picnic table looking at stars, smoking weed. I will never grow tired of the desert sky. So far from cities and their light pollution, the desert sky is actually dark, but for the millions of stars thus made visible. How tiny are we hairless apes in the starscape of existence? And even here in dark desolation we are denied the light of countless luminous bodies too far and too dim, outshone by even the sleeping sun. No wonder that the ancients looked to the heavens and saw divinity. There is no peace like the realization of one’s own utter insignificance in the vastness of the universe. I slept well that night.