It's been a while since I've posted about our grand summer adventure. If you're just joining us, let me catch you up: In June of 2015 my husband Andrew, myself, and our best friends Grant and Taylor all hopped in a tiny car and drove from South Carolina to California. If you missed the first installment of our trip, you can find it here.
We had originally planned to go from Austin to the Grand Canyon, but we changed our plans at the very last minute and drove straight to our next location: Joshua Tree. Yes, we drove all the way across Texas in the middle of the night, through Arizona, and into the heart of the desert to camp in June. Are we crazy? Probably. Was it worth it? Hell. Yes.
One of my favorite memories of the entire trip was our drive through Texas. Of course it was pretty miserable to be in a tiny car for almost 24 hours straight. But when we drove through the plains of Texas overnight we ended up getting caught in the most incredible thunder storm I've ever experienced. I really can't explain it well enough, and I didn't try to take any photos because honestly no photo would have done it justice. Just try to imagine driving through the plateaus of Texas in the pitch black of a cloudy night, with lightning erupting at least every 5 seconds all around you. I mean every corner of the sky exploding in fits of light non stop. For hours on end. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and I don't have a single photo of it. Oddly enough, I kinda like it that way.
We eventually made it through the night, and when we finally saw the sun again, we had to stop and admire it. I think we had just made it into Arizona.
Have I explained the flamingo yet? We found her in our car from a party we threw a while back, and we named it Georgina, in honor of our friend we were missing. (Shoutout to G!) Naturally after being in a car for almost 24 hours we started singing the Lion King song and holding Georgina up to the sunrise. It was good to see the sun after a long dark thunderous night.
I keep telling myself not to forget the way the mountains look when they are bathing in the light from the rising sun.
A few hours later (and a grocery run to load up on water), we arrived at Joshua Tree National Park. The Park is about the size of Rhode Island, so we had a long drive in.
Once we found our camping site (we had a lot to choose from because weirdly enough not many people want to camp in the desert in June) we quickly realized we needed shade. We needed shade real bad. So we pulled out our handy tarp and tied it to some shrubs to make our own little oasis. This was the first camping leg of our trip - this is where we started really living like dirty hobos. We set up our camp just in time to explore a little before the sun went down. There are really only a few precious hours when the sun is out but not punishingly hot - the 2-3 hours after sunrise and the 2-3 hours before sunset. So we took full advantage of those hours.
We were like children out there. I've never seen land like that, so harsh and so beautiful. We were captivated by it. We climbed and scrambled, chasing the sun over the huge red rocks. Leaping across those ancient boulders, my mind kept going back to Peter Pan. I felt like one of the lost boys. I felt like time was slipping away from us like the sand between the rocks, like we could stay suspended there forever in that sunset.
But when we finally started losing light we realized we didn't have flashlights and we needed to get back to camp, so we turned around.
Cooking by the fire, having nothing to do but talk with one another, feeling the chill of the desert night winds, seeing more stars than I could ever imagine, sleeping on the ground - these are the simple pleasures I hope I will never forget. Desert nights are good good nights.
The sun rose very early, so we rose too. We wanted to see as much as possible before it became too hot to function. Something that shocked me about Joshua Tree was all the rabbits we saw out there. One jack rabbit had his ears all torn up - I still think about that image all the time. The amount of life we saw out there was so impressive, but it was all marked by the desert.
We drove out to a far end of the park to see an overlook. Car air conditioning was much appreciated by all.
Directly above you see Grant's famous pose. You can't go somewhere cool and not get a photo of Grant lounging dramatically. It's his thing.
Which is actually a great segue into the explanation of a term we coined while in Joshua Tree: Desert Brain. Right around 9/10 o'clock in the morning the sun really heats up in the desert. We thought at first that maybe we could tough it out, but we quickly found there was no beating the heat. In less than 24 hours we drank through all our water supply, and there is no (absolutely zero) source of running water in Joshua Tree National Park. I tried to stay hydrated but once it got hot I got a terrible pounding headache. We started thinking slower, moving slower, having a hard time making decisions, and saying even more ridiculous things than usual. It was our first ever case of desert brain. We figured out real quick that we needed to go into town to get more water and find some shelter to hide from the midday sun. So around noon we headed into the nearest town: Twentynine Palms.
The city of Twentynine Palms is everything you would imagine a city right outside of a desert to be: tiny, quiet, limited sources of free water, bathrooms, or wifi, and really weird cash only bars. We found refuge in a few small dark bars in the middle of the day. Some of the friendly locals tipped us off to a hotel nearby with a pool and a restaurant. We heard "swimming pool" and were out the door and in the pool in about 5 minutes flat. We weren't even wearing bathing suits. But when you're desperate enough, you'll find any way to cool off. Desert Brain. Sorry to the Twentynine Palms Inn for trespassing, but thanks for the pool.
When the heat of the day was finally starting to burn off, we went back into the park to explore more.
We jumped around Skull Rock for a long time. Can you guess how it got its name?
So the next day we got up extra early so we could hike up Ryan Mountain. I know, I know, you idiots are already struggling in the heat, why go hiking and add to your troubles? Because we are young, we wanted to see the best Joshua Tree had to offer, and desert brain.
When we turned the final corner to reach the top of the mountain, we found a man standing on the summit doing yoga completely naked. It was such a surprise that we actually yelped in strange laughter. Rude, I know, but desert brain. He quickly clothed himself while we went to the other side of the peak, and eventually he approached us (fully clothed) and introduced himself. We told him we were just shocked to see anyone else in the park, let alone a naked man in a yoga pose. A solo hiker, a french woman whose name I can't remember anymore, also reached the summit while we were up there, and we all stood and talked and admired the view for a long time. We hiked down together, exchanging stories and ideas along the way. I wish I was better at remembering names, but I really enjoyed meeting those two on the top of a mountain. It was strange but wonderful.
I became quite enamored with the desert while I was out there. It was barren, harsh, unforgiving and dangerous, yet it was so stunningly beautiful. Life still found a way, even there. It captivated me. Maybe it was just the desert brain, but even after we left I still found my mind constantly going back to that place.