Saturday, February 14, 2009

My High Desert Hideaway

Relaxing at The Desert Lily B&B

A lot of people thought I'd gone a little crazy when I told them that I was spending Valentine's Day alone in the desert. If I already knew I'd be lonely, why would I want to make it worse? But of course, the desert has so many mental and physical healing powers for me that I knew it would be good for me, and I'd much rather be alone in the middle of nowhere than be alone in a city where I'm expected not to be alone.

Still, even the folks that run my little desert hideaway, The Desert Lily, are feeling sorry for me. In addition to the Russell Stover chocolates last night and the candy hearts this morning, which Carrie gave everybody, the owners just invited me out to a party so I wouldn't be sitting here alone in the dark with my laptop. I declined, though, because this is what I wanted.

In the desert, you kind of have to live your life by the sun. And this B&B is so hidden in the dirt hills that it's pitch black out, so it kind of seems like time to turn in for the night as soon as the sun goes down, which this time of year is around 5:30 p.m.

Every morning since I arrived for this trip on Wednesday, I've woken up with the sun - either just before it rises or just as it's rising. Normally a night owl and a sleepyhead in the morning, this feels abdurdly natural to me, and I wake up in the dark looking forward to those first peeks of light over the eastern horizon. This morning's sunrise was nice enough, met with roosters crowing, dogs howling, and quails fluttering, but the real treasure was when I wasn't alone - when Edith woke with me, a little farther east down on the main highway at the Harmony Motel, whose meditative garden and hot tub felt magical both as the apricot light illuminated it for the first time in the day, and when the year-round twinkly lights lit the path (and passing jackrabbits) at night. It reminded me so much of our mornings spent at the Palms at Indian Head in Borrego Springs last fall, a trip that impressed me so much I had to come back and explore the rest of Southern California's desert frontier.

The area around Joshua Tree - specifically the Morongo Basin, consisting of small towns Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley - is considered the high desert, unlike the low elevations I experienced in Death Valley and at the Salton Sea. Between the higher elevations and the winter season, the area was a little colder than we would have liked on this trip, but even for here it's been unseasonably cold. We watched the snow-capped San Jacinto Mountain become even whiter, and we stumbled onto some snow on the ground in Joshua Tree National Park. Last night when I was driving home from dropping Edith off for a romantic weekend with Eric in Palm Springs, I swear I saw snow in my headlights.
As much as I loved the dry heat of Morocco, Death Valley and Anza-Borrego, I've come to quite like the crisp wintry sunrises that give way to sunny, warm days with a cold gust blowing in from the car window, cooling my sunsoaked neck as I speed down the highway.



Driving - and driving fast - has been par for the course during this trip. We flew into Burbank and drove out here from there, taking a little longer than the prescribed three hours - not bad for hitting a lot of traffic. But since I chose to stay in a more remote location instead of the "too populated" Palm Springs, we've done a lot of driving, and, by necessity, fast. People who live out here don't care how dark, rainy, or bumpy the roads are. And they will come up behind and eat you if you can't keep up. Personally, I think there's a place for slow driving, like when you're looking for a place to eat, or when you want to pull over every five minutes to take photos instead of snapping them from behind the steering wheel. I wish we could have driven more slowly past the windmill farms that characterize the majority of the landscape where I-10 meets Route 62, the Twentynine Palms Highway and the gateway to the Morongo Basin towns where I've been based during this trip. Here, there's nowhere to pull over and take pictures. You have to get 'em while you can as you whizz by. Someday I'll come back to take a tour of them, when the tour facility is no longer under renovation, as it is right now. It's always nice to have a reason to come back.

Despite the cold rain last night, I got great weather today. I'd managed to drive the entirety of Joshua Tree Park with Edith yesterday, so I had plenty of time to drive up to Landers for a sound bath at the Integratron, drive down to Indio for the National Date Festival and Riverside County Fair, and drive back to Morongo Valley for a quick sunset nature walk in the canyon preserve. A restorative day all around: starting with the homemade stuffed French toast that Carrie served for breakfast, on to the magical battery-recharging geophysical powers of a strange desert sound chamber built to be a time machine, right down to one of my favorite activities, going to a fair. The Integratron, with its time travel-tinged lore and its weird sound effects (the sound of crystal bowls being played reminded me of listening to the Bjork song "Headphones"), made me ready for any bizarre thing that might happen to me today, but instead, everything felt so simple and effortless afterwards. Drive an hour to Indio? No problem. Get lost in Desert Hot Springs without GPS? No biggie. Spent Valentine's Day alone? You betcha.

The Date Festival didn't contain as much California date-related propaganda as I was hoping for (fried dates! date on a stick! date pizza!). And, since I decided to go during the day, I missed out on the amusement park ride lights I love so much and the nightly Ali Baba performance. But I got to eat a delicious smoked tri-tip sandwich from Big Bubba's, and see all the West Coast food wonders like a stand devoted to Indian Fry Bread and fried White Castle burgers. I only spent about an hour there but it was a great, relaxing way to spend some time in the sun and get some local flavor.

So I'm in for the night now, drinking red wine and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies. I'm hidden away in the desert, with no cell phone service and no desire to drive drunk down that harrowing hill again. I feel alone, but happy. Maybe my chakras got a little of that reverberation from the sound waves in the Integratron earlier. Or maybe my brain is just getting healthier.