When you think of any national park, you probably think about a place with bright green foliage and craggy waterfalls scattered over a few acres of land. In Joshua Tree National Park however, that expectation could not be further from the truth. The whole space seems to rumble with a slow rhythm that cracks the dry air and brings life out from every craggy rock, doing so in an utter and deafening silence. It wasn’t supposed to be anything special, just a token hike for the historical enthusiast. Our family was smack in the middle of our one-week road trip in Southern California, and the desert park an overnight on the way to the City of Angels. Instead, it ended up being one of the most memorable parts of our trip.
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The night before had been surreal, almost like a scene out of an old western movie. The evening brought about a clear and starry night, and we had driven in from days spent in must-see places teeming with tourists and natives alike, like the San Diego Zoo. Bad jokes were told over the sound of classic rock and grumbling stomachs as we pulled up to a nearby inn, and desert dust carried itself onto my sneakers with the wind as I hopped out of the car. My father helped the bellboy load the suitcases onto a cart, and my mom went inside to check us in. As I followed behind I couldn’t help notice three men in cowboy boots, two smoking cigars and one with hands tied to his belt buckle as they talked in low voices, occasionally turning to spit. If you asked me, I’d swear I’d gone back in time.
Later that night we found a restaurant, but only after running into a field of weeds and using a paper map, sans GPS (cue shock). Family-owned and filled with warmth and live music, we waited at the bar for our table where I made friends with their local musician, a country indie silver fox type who talked to us about the tumbleweed town with a heavy accent. What was odd was that everything came with a label about water conservation, a clear explanation of why it wasn’t served at the table prior to the meal unless you asked for it. Kind of an educational experience about water conservation for native New Yorkers, especially since after that night we’ve been trying to do more about supporting the environment. That night we ate like kings and slept like babies, and Wyoming license plates glowing on out rented car the next morning, we launched ourselves across what tied together the Colorado and Mojave Desert.
Joshua Trees peppered the ground we occasionally stopped the car to look at, the first time any of us had ever seen one. To me they looked like little people with spiky hair all growing out of a trunk, arms in a triumphant hooray seemingly at the site of visitors. They cheered us on through the cactus garden and across the steep stones calling to the boldest explorers. We had even found remnants of an old mine, one where they had drawn ore that had started releasing all kinds of chemicals. Before the afternoon, we had reached the landmark we had come to see: the Key View. From a certain vantage point we could see the San Andreas Fault and a mountain in Mexico. I was seeing plates of land move past each other to slow for me to notice them right before my eyes, but the whole outlook could have been a painting. A perspective better than any screensaver of a desert I had grown used to seeing on computers had appeared before my eyes, so grandiose it practically took away my burning want for water. We stood with the viewers taking pictures, and then in silence as everyone left. I felt dwarfish in comparison to the fault and all the desert life, even though most of it was smaller than I ever was. Half a year later, I’m still learning to conserve water and notice the beauty in unexpected things. In fact, we bought a Joshua tree that’s still in a pot smaller than the palm of my hand, and as of yesterday, it bloomed it’s very first few leaves.
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