“Excuse me, do you know where the information desk is? Or someplace we could get a map of the park?” my boyfriend Mark Morales asked a fellow hiker.
“Yeah about 20 miles back,” she said.
There we were. In the middle of an 800,000-acre national park with no map. We decided to shrug our shoulders and see where the desert took us.
Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California near Twentynine Palms. This park is where two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado, meet. I assumed, based on the name of the park, that the Joshua Tree was a tree. But in fact, it is not. With its sharp, pointy leaves it is actually the largest type of yucca plant.
This vast, and other-worldly place was so unique. It felt as if we were all alone and had just discovered another planet while at the same time we constantly ran into others as approximately 1.4 million people visit every year.
“Wanna go for a hike here?” I asked Mark.
“Sure, let me just pack some snacks and a few bottles of water,” he said.
“I think we’ll be ok, we can just do a short hike since there’s so much else to explore.”
“We’re in the desert, we can’t take any chances. You never know what’s going to happen,” Mark said very seriously as he took off his shirt, put on his straw hat and embraced his desert persona.
At our first stop, we discovered old mines where people once searched in hopes of striking it rich. All the eye could see was the dusty orange color of the sandy desert floor and Joshua Trees with their wild limbs stretching in a way that no two looked the same. The mine shafts were closed off for safety reasons, but we were able to peak past the bars and get a sense of those who came before us.
As we got back in the car to drive to another pull-off area, we saw a dirt road and decided to see what was at the end. We were truly the only two people on the planet at that moment. No cell service, just dust in the rearview mirror as we pretended to be trailblazers. This road led us to “the wonderland of rocks.” Humans dangled from ropes as they attempted to put themselves in places they shouldn’t naturally be and ancient mountains once whole, were now carefully balanced puzzle pieces. We decided to climb them.
I was honestly pretty nervous, but Mark was fearless as he jumped from rock to rock. My confidence was boosted, or maybe my pride was just tested, as I saw kids climbing up next to us. I soon found my footing and climbed to the top. We enjoyed some beef jerky and took in the sights all around us. The vastness felt overwhelming and even surrounded by people it felt so quiet. No one wanted to interrupt its beauty.
We got back into the car to find out next stop. It was kind of nice that we didn’t have a map because that way we had no expectations. We were just genuinely taken aback by the natural beauty that engulfed us.
“There’s too many people here. We’re not going to be able to find a parking spot,” I said to Mark.
He didn’t say anything and was unusually quiet, but he had a look of determination in his eyes. A car backed out in front of us and Mark whipped our car into its place.
“I have a good feeling about this spot. There has to be a reason so many people are here,” he said.
There is no water in the desert. There is no grass in the desert. There are no signs of life in the desert except the sporadic creepy crawler. What we stumbled upon was an oasis. A small trail with twists and turns that opened up into a clearing that literally took our breath away. There was a lake! And grass! And trees with yellow leaves! And ducks! And this was in the middle of the desert?! How long we stood and looked at the water I do not know. All I know is that we could not take our eyes off it. This was truly God’s country.
As the sun began to set and the moon rose high above the rock formations, we slowly made our way back to the car one last time. It was hard to leave this place knowing that it would still be there tomorrow, but we would be back in the urban landscape. That day truly felt like a dream. We said goodbye to our secret world as the pink skies melted away to darkness.
And on our way out we decided to stop one last time.
To get a map.
All photos courtesy of Madeline Seiberlich and Mark Morales.
Information for this article taken from https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm, https://www.desertusa.com/flora/the-joshua-tree.html