Desert Solitude – A Week in Joshua Tree

Bracing for a storm in the park.

Bracing for a storm in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park is one of those timeless landscapes that hard-wires me to my inner core. Towering starry skies where the wisdom of light years rains down. Crisp silent mornings as the sun brightens dew drops on Cholla cacti barbs and sparks fires on giant weathered granite boulders scattered to the horizon. And don’t forget the Joshua trees themselves, those Dr. Seussian cousins of the Yucca with their branching arms and unmistakable silhouette. The park is a stunning place to explore physically on foot, bike or vertically via rock climbing. Or it’s simply a place to sit and think deeply, and to laugh with new friends as camp fire shadows dance on the granite walls.

Subtleties are the binding agent for the park’s magnificence. Like a good concerto, the silence informs the sounds. A cool breeze whispering to the rocks. A solo hummingbird staking out his Ocotillo plant or a desert tortoise plodding back to his hideout in the sandy ground. Similar to the redwood forests of Northern California and the limitless Pacific waves, deserts carve out the oceanic feeling in my soul, that feeling of being part of something infinitely bigger, older and wiser than myself. They remind me of my status as a speck suspended in this giant universe, tugging Muir-like with my actions at every other strand of this web.

I think we all crave a sense of place and history, which is likely why new suburbs make us feel uneasy. A collection of homes, dropped from above as if by a lead-addled king’s whim. They lack any sense of creation or connection to the landscape and leave us adrift and lost in cul-de-sacs of desperation. The interwoven facets of a desert, evolved and battle-tested through eons of blasting weather, from the out-stretched arms of the Joshua tree down to the wood rat nesting at the base of its trunk, are a foundation of truth where we can plant our feet and draw a source of strength straight from the bedrock to clear away the haze of day-to-day worry beneath clear blue skies.

Solace and peace wash over me in places like this. Business deals raking my mind over the coals are superseded by peaceful slumber after a walk under the Milky Way. While we visited, there was a fantastic two days of thunderstorms that piled dark thunderheads high in the sky and raged wind and water, cleansing the land and reasserting just how powerful nature is. Yet the Joshua tree, starting as a small seedling on a sheltering nurse log, grow in a hostile environment and stand for centuries beneath baking sun, gusting wind and occasionally pouring rain, all with shallow roots no larger than a finger. My life is so easy in comparison. I am lucky to breathe deeply and take in a sunset vista after a boulder-hopping ascent to the top of a valley and take these centuries of effort in.

We’ve been on the road for four months exactly as I write this and yet the journey, wherever it takes us, is just unfolding. Traipsing is “to travel about without apparent plan, with or without a purpose.” My time in the high desert presented beautiful hikes and bikes rides, scintillating sunsets and limitless night skies. Beyond that, it yielded important clarity for me, blooming in sync with the rain-soaked desert at the end of our visit. I’m feeling new focus and priorities in my life, an upswell I’ve kept at bay with excuses too long. The time is now, always, to pursue passion and challenge myself, excuses be damned. This trip, originally slated to end March 1st, continues. Onward into the unknown we tread!

Ciao from Julian, quaint city in the mountains just northeast of San Diego famous for delicious apple pies. In the words of my good friend Ryan, NOMNOMNOM.

Dakota

P.S. More pictures below!

Turbines in the windy valley west of Palm Springs.

Turbines in the windy valley west of Palm Springs.

Touring around the park our favorite way.

Touring around the park our favorite way.

Five miles into the Boy Scout Trail looking north out of Joshua Tree.

Five miles into the Boy Scout Trail looking north out of Joshua Tree.

Tiny black flowers popping up along the Boy Scout Trail.

Tiny black flowers popping up along the Boy Scout Trail.

A misty and mysterious feel to the park during a rain storm.

A misty and mysterious feel to the park during a rain storm.

Early sun-watching session after climbing up some granite in the middle of the desert.

Early sun-watching session after climbing up some granite in the middle of the desert.

Halfway through the 30 mile Palm Canyon epic - desert single track for hours!

Halfway through the 30 mile Palm Canyon epic – desert single track for hours!

Hundreds of cholla cacti in a giant garden in the middle of Joshua Tree.

Hundreds of cholla cacti in a giant garden in the middle of Joshua Tree.

Here's what we look like these days!

Here’s what we look like these days!

Cholla cacti buds after a rain storm.

Cholla cacti buds after a rain storm.

Following the butterflies on a hike.

Following the butterflies on a hike.

One needs to be careful biking in the desert!

One needs to be careful biking in the desert!

Lights out in Hidden Valley as the sun dips low.

Lights out in Hidden Valley as the sun dips low.

A starry night in Joshua Tree.

A starry night in Joshua Tree.

6 replies
  1. Wayward P
    Wayward P says:

    LOVE the lead photo D! Random thoughts this sparked:
    – I think you would really dig on my dad’s landscaping, he often makes woeful references to landscaping that looks like it was dropped in by aliens. http://www.clarkmatschek.com/
    – “Time is now” is my own little race-day running mantra. I know that was a piece of a larger thought/sentence in your post but that piece alone is something I try to hold with me and is part of what I love about running (and other things that put me in the “zone.”) I’ve been mulling around a new post for Wayward P and what the title should be…. stay tuned – I might rift off this a wee bit.
    – Love the definition of “Traipsing” and what it means to you – I feel something similar about “Wayward”
    – Love the photo of you two – you both look to be brimming with health and ease!
    – Miss you guys!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      The light and clouds were just surreal that day. So amazing. I liked that shot too, and thought it was the best one to capture what it felt like up there.

      Traipse on, wayward ones! Wherever we roam, there we are. And it sure is fun. Looking forward to reading your upcoming pieces!

      Reply
  2. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    I love following your adventure. If you enjoyed Joshua Tree and you have time go explore the Mojave National Preserve, beautiful!. Miles and miles of dirt roads, dispersed camping and hardly anyone around.

    Reply
    • Dakota Gale
      Dakota Gale says:

      Thanks for the recommendation Brandon! We are actually headed up through there on the way to the Grand Canyon this weekend – very timely suggestion.

      Any specific recommendations in the Preserve?

      Reply
  3. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    Hiking up the Kelso Dunes is pretty brutal but well worth the slog. We camped up in the mid hills campground, several sites with great views, gets a lot less traffic then the Hole-in-the-Wall campground. We really enjoyed everything we did in the Preserve from hikes to explore the Lava tubes(only about .5 miles, more work finiding the right dirt road to turn on), Teuntonia Peak Trail and off trail wanderings around the campground.

    Reply

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