Our original plan was four days of rest and relaxation in Joshua Tree National Park.
We’ve worked almost non-stop, including weekends, for the past two months in order to really learn our new job. Then we got the news – we were delayed for a few days getting our new assignments. Our four days of planned R&R turned into six! Thankfully, we were in the perfect place to rest, relax, and unwind.
Why Joshua Tree National Park is magical
It’s 8:45 pm and we’re in a campground in Twentynine Palms, just outside of Joshua Tree National Park. I look up just as a brilliant orange meteor shoots overhead. It’s gone in a split second and seems to last forever.
It’s 11:30 am and we’re driving the Desert Queen Mine Road inside Joshua Tree National Park. We see a few rabbits and lots of crows. Turning onto Queen Valley Road, we approach the Barker Dam area. As we round a corner, we see a sizeable herd of Bighorn sheep! Two rams have those classic curved horns that make you wonder how they hold their heads up. Another couple in a car has stopped to watch the sheep, too, and points out two more females on the big boulder piles. Something spooks these ladies and they leap and bound down the rocks to join the herd. It’s magical!
Sometime during our first hours in the park, I look over at Nelson and whisper, “It is SO quiet. The silence is almost deafening.” He smiles and replies, “Thank god.”
It’s noon and we’re driving the main road through the park. A coyote with a rabbit in his mouth trots across the road in front of us.
It’s 11 pm and we’ve driven the dusty Bighorn Pass Road into the middle of the park. I’m halfway asleep in the car. Nelson is out sitting among the trees and cacti snapping photos. He gets a few amazing shots of the Milky Way, Joshua trees, and stars. Note: nighttime is a fantastic time to see this park – many animals are out, the skies are incredible, and there are few (if any) people around.
Now it’s 11:30 pm and we are heading back to camp. It’s a like a game of dodge ’em as we try to avoid hitting the many kangaroo rats that scurry across the road in front of our moving car. We manage win to at dodge ’em but other people aren’t as successful. It’s curious that in the morning we don’t see a single “hit by car” kangaroo rat. We think the coyotes, owls, and foxes clean them up. Free food!!
Later, we’re hiking to the old Barker dam. The boulder field tightens up as we get closer. We’re squeezed in a single file line each way. As people pass us, I have the thought, “They are going in a completely different direction than we are. I wonder what they are seeing that we don’t?” It seems like a metaphor for life: change your direction and you change your perspective. Cool.
It’s only 8 pm, although it feels like midnight. We’re sitting outside at our campsite staring at the sky. One after the other, we see shooting stars, satellites whizzing overhead, and blinking planes all around us. The temperature is perfect and we are ridiculously content.
As I’m walking through a boulder garden with rocks bigger than 3-story townhouses, I am unaware of myself. I stare in awe at the colors, shapes, and sizes of the rocks around me. Later, I realize I was so in the moment that I forgot to take pictures.
During our time in the park, we see or hear a dozen animals, including:
- Bighorn sheep
- Mule deer
- Black-tailed jackrabbits
- White-tailed antelope ground squirrels
- At least one great horned owl
- SO many lizards
- Kangaroo rats
We drive all the dirt roads we can find and discover mountain tops with 360 degree views and virtually no people. After dark, we drive up to Keys View overlook and see a magnificent nighttime view of Palm Springs.
This morning, it rains for a brief five minutes. We are in awe. There’s been no rain the entire month we’ve been in Southern California.
A hike through the very odd Cholla Cactus Garden has me thinking, “It looks like a billion Ewoks have exploded here!”
Finding an arrowhead in Joshua Tree National Park!
During our drive on the Geology Road (18 miles round-trip of dirt roads, suitable for 4×4 vehicles), we stop to view an old mine site. As we are walking back to the car, Nelson is in the middle of saying something when he stops, bends over, and his transition statement becomes, “…and I just found an arrowhead.” He holds it up, awe and wonder painted all over his face. Incredible. We rebury the arrowhead and report its location to the rangers. We show them a picture, they get very excited, and tell us to expect a call from them about it. Very cool!
I realize while hiking a sandy and steep downhill section that I’m all clenched up. “Tight-butted” as my dear friend Robin says. I relax. Stop my worrying about slipping or falling. I let go of my need to control my downhill descent. Suddenly, I’m moving with ease, one foot in front of the other. I feel lighter. Happier. And not out of control at all.
This moment makes me wonder what else I’ve been fighting (I have some ideas…). What if I gave up control? Just let go? Didn’t worry about my descent or ascent? Just went with the flow…what would be different? No guarantee I wouldn’t fall, fail, or get hurt. But there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t happen when I’m trying something all tight-butted, either. I will say, when I relaxed, going down that steep slope felt a whole lot more fun.
You know how some people stand for the National Anthem? We stand for glorious sunsets.
And finally, as I sit in camp this evening, a few coyotes start singing, howling, and yipping to each other in distance.
This visit to Joshua Tree was so wonderful. We’re “happy cactuses”…I mean CAMPERS!