February 15, 2009

Last Desert Day

I was so sick before this trip, I wasn't sure that I would make it. Even as I arrived at the gate at JFK, I was sweating and teary, dreading the long flight and drive ahead.

But practically as soon as we landed, I magically recovered.

As I approach my impending return to NYC, I'm starting to feel a little sick again.

I'm going to take one last nature walk this morning after breakfast before I depart Joshua Tree, to refill my lungs with fresh, dry air and clear my sinuses before I head to the more polluted, economically depressed western portion of the Inland Empire (also known as "Foreclosure Alley").

I thought we'd gotten our fill of nature on Thursday when we meandered down all the paved roads of Joshua Tree National Park, but I'm longing for it again. If I were more of a hiker or rockclimber, there'd be plenty more for me to do there, but I won't go back, not on this trip.

When we drove up Quail Springs Road (which explains all the quails I've seen) to the park entrance, we popped a copy of The Joshua Tree into the CD player. It didn't occur to me what a cliche we were til I had to roll down my window and pay the park fee, looking sheepishly at the park ranger who took our money. It's hard not to think of U2 when you're in this area, after having grown up listening to that album and associating the name with the place all these years. But in truth, The Joshua Tree was recorded in Dublin, not here. And the cover photo was shot in Death Valley, where the actual joshua tree that inspired the logo was from.

Still, as the Harmony Motel loves to advertise, U2 did stay here while they were working on the album (probably after it was recorded), and did an entire promotional photo shoot here.

Red Ocotillo cholla

It's no wonder - even the Twentynine Palms Highway is photogenic. In the park itself, I couldn't not take a photo of a joshua tree, rarely snapping anything that didn't have one in the foreground. As we drove farther south, the joshua trees became sparser (not only where there had been wildfires) and we came across other bizarre forms of desert vegetation like the blooming red ocotillo or terrifying cholla cactuses, which look fuzzy and loveable but will pierce your skin with their projectile prickly spines without thinking twice.

I don't know if I'm ready for city life yet, but heading back out west today to stay in a teepee tonight near the historic Route 66 will provide an interesting and perhaps bizarre segue.

For more photos of Joshua Tree, click here

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