Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Joshua Tree (03.08.13 - 03.11.13)


While it's still fresh in my mind, I wanted to tell you all about my trip to Joshua Tree over last weekend. For those of you keeping score, this was the fourth time Kat and I have spent our vacation in Joshua Tree since our first trip in October 2010. We really can't get enough of it.

To really tell the story of this trip, I need to back up the clock about 24 hours before our departure. Without going into detail, I got some news on the morning on Thursday March 7 which was really pretty shitty, and could have affected the vacation in a negative way (as in, could have caused it not to happen at all). But it turned out that something I've known all along was once again proven tangibly: I have wonderful friends, both in my personal and business lives, and I can't thank them enough for coming through for me when I need them.

So, on to the trip: on Friday morning, after I took care of some stuff and got my son to school, my darling Kat and our wonderful friend Jess (aka Triana) arrived here shortly before 11AM. Jess had flown in from Minnesota the day before, and was looking forward to the trip (she'd also accompanied us on our second journey to JTree in June 2011). We'd had a fun sushi dinner at Ichiriki on Thursday night, and when Kat and Jess pulled into my driveway, Kat's Jeep was mostly packed; we just threw my stuff in with room to spare, and then we were off after a quick stop for food for the road.

The drive was fine, though it was the first trip where we had to contend with a pretty powerful rainstorm while on the way. No problem; Kat's little Jeep powered over the 91, 605, 60, 10, and 62 freeways with ease. During our drive, when we were nearing the desert, I looked down at the dashboard temperature readout. Gulp... 48 degrees. Not that this is particularly cold, but there was also a pretty strong wind blowing down from the snow-covered mountains. I knew that being in the high desert in colder weather would be a new experience. We arrived at about 2PM. It was a little too early, actually... we hadn't mentioned to Carrie that we'd be arriving sooner than the 3PM check-in, and ended up waiting for her to arrive (for only about five minutes though).

Kat's Jeep, parked at Casa Rosita looking down on the Desert Lily.

Who is Carrie? Carrie Yeager is the proprietor of the Desert Lily Inn, the bed-and-breakfast and cabin rental spot in JTree where Kat and I have returned again and again. Carrie is about the nicest, warmest, and coolest person you could ever want to meet. I'm not sure how old she is; somewhere around the same ages as us, we think, though it's hard to tell. We've said on a number of occasions that while the Lily is fantastic in its own right, Carrie is one of the big reasons we keep coming back there. I had to laugh; Carrie came pulling up with an open bottle of some fancy beer that a previous guest had left behind.

We once again stayed at Casa Rosita, a great little house with all the amenities of home, but situated in a rather isolated plot of land off dirt roads, and very close to the western entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. You don't have to leave Casa Rosita to experience the wildlife of JTree. Each time we've been there, we're surrounded by quail, rabbits, hares, lizards, and all manner of desert birds. You can have an amazing day just sitting on the patio and communing with nature.

The weather was pretty cold and gloomy at the start of our trip. We didn't care, and were happy as could be to arrive at the Desert Lily.

But before we got to the hardcore relaxation that we'd planned, we had one more thing to do. After getting into Casa Rosita and unloading the Jeep, we drove back down into Yucca Valley and hit Starbucks, and then the grocery store for all the food we'd need for our trip. Back at the Casa, we put away our food, and commenced with the purpose of the trip: doing nothing. You can actually be quite active while doing nothing. For example, we had lots of fun talking about how everything in the desert can be identified by putting the word "desert" before its usual name. Is that a chipmunk? No, it's a Desert Chipmunk. And so on. After awhile, we were discussing desert fog, desert dogs, and so on.

Desert fog in our "backyard" at Casa Rosita.

For me, another form of fun "nothing" is sitting around playing the guitar, and I brought my little cheap acoustic for that purpose. The quiet of the desert is so wonderful, and the sound of an acoustic guitar is fantastic with no traffic noise, sirens, or loud people to distract from it. So, we spent awhile just chilling. Speaking of chilling, in contrast to previous trips, it had actually snowed there the day before, so none of us (even Jess the Minnesotan) were wearing our usual shorts/t-shirt vacation garb (though Jess stayed in short sleeves while I felt compelled to bundle up in layers).

No trip to the desert is complete without me playing guitar at you.

After awhile, we found ourselves hungry, so Kat and Jess whipped up a delightful dinner of fettucini with mushroom alfredo, a salad, and some warm buttery sourdough. Yum! It was well after dark when we stepped outside to look at the stars, but as we did, the door closed and we realized that it was locked behind us... and the keys were in the kitchen. Jess was in socks, so Kat and I walked down the road to the Lily to sheepishly get spare keys from Carrie. It was in the 30s and the wind was howling, so thankfully it's only about a quarter mile roundtrip.

Later that night, we opened some Stella Artois, and kicked back in the living room on the "cuddle bed" to watch some DVDs of "Flight of the Conchords", which Jess hadn't seen before. A while later, we all hit the hay after a long but fun day.

We awoke pretty early on Saturday (for a vacation day, that is) and proceeded to continue our plan of not hurrying to do much of anything. Kat made her yummy bagels and vegetables that she often serves on our kick-back weekends, and we relaxed for awhile. At one moment of silliness, while I was outside smoking, I decided to moon Kat, who was on the couch reading. I tapped on the glass, but she didn't seem to notice. I tapped again. Nothing. I tapped louder and turned around to drop my sweatpants down; of course, at that moment, Jess had walked over to see what the ruckus was all about, so I ended up inadvertently showing my naked ass to both of them. Nice.

The real attraction of Joshua Tree is, of course, the amazing Joshua Tree National Park. It was still rather chilly, and the wind had kicked up considerably, so we kept that in mind as we took our first excursion inside. We packed up some sandwiches for lunch, and then decided to show Jess Split Rock, where we'd gone with Bunny on our last trip in June 2012. It was neat, but the wind was still whipping dirt and dust around. We ate in the Jeep comfortably while enjoying the sights of the desert around us.

Kat prepares some sandwiches for our first journey into the park on Saturday.

Some scenery at Split Rock.

Next, we headed even further into the park, heading down toward the Colorade Desert portion and enjoying the Cholla Cactus Garden. This was a treat, because the last time we were there, it was well over 100 degrees, and it's hard to enjoy something when you're concerned about dying of heat exhaustion. This time, it was lovely in the mid-50s, and we strolled around the short trail, taking pictures and having fun.

Kat and I, surrounded by cholla cactus.

Hanging out with Triana is fun no matter where we are!

We couldn't stay in the park for very long because we did have one thing that did need to happen on a timely basis... we had 5PM reservations at Pappy & Harriet's, a famously cool restaurant, bar, and live music venue up in Pioneertown. After a quick stop at the Casa to change clothes and freshen up, we were off. Pappy & Harriet's was every bit as great as it has been on our first couple of visits there. All three of us had the same dinner: rib-eye steaks (oh... my... God), with garlic mashed potatoes and this amazing broccoli that they serve there. At least we all had different beers (Kat stuck with Stella while I had a Widmer Hef, and Jess had a Corona Lite). Their house band, the Shadow Mountain Band, started playing soon after we were seated, so we enjoyed some classic bluegrass and Americana while devouring our delicious dinners.

After driving back down the mountain to our little home away from home, full of food and happy, we again spent the rest of the evening kicking back and watching DVDs. I also did some impromptu live music performances for my little audience. I recall doing a set of Stones tunes, and acting out my best imitations of Mick and Keith at the same time. It was fun. Due to the food coma, we all ended up going to sleep pretty early.

While we chilled the night before, Jess started preparing some delicious concoction that she'd planned for our Sunday breakfast. After sleeping in and relaxing for awhile (always important), she cooked up her egg bake, which is kind of like a crustless quiche and was heavenly. It had eggs, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and cheese. Man, I was really spoiled with good eating the whole trip.

As we cleaned up after breakfast, Kat returned my butt display favor by mooning the camera while I snapped photos inside the Casa. We were in no hurry, and spent some time around the cabin. The wind had died down and the temperature was more moderate. It was a really nice moment to kick back and enjoy the quiet serenity of the desert.

Kat flashes her waxing gibbous at me from the breakfast table. No, you can't have the unedited version, you pervert.

I'm pretty silly no matter where I am, but there's nothing stopping me from Full Silliness Mode in the desert.

Driven by eventual onset of hunger and the desire to not be complete sloths the whole day, we did manage to get dressed and head out in the early afternoon. First was a quick trip to town to hit a gas station and then Taco Bell (while it's great being isolated in the desert with no cell coverage or Internet access, it's also really nice having all the modern amenities being a 15-minute drive away). We loaded up on fast food, and went back to Casa Rosita to munch our munchies. Then, it was off to the Park. JTNP is huge, and despite having been around much of the park several times before, Kat and I had never stopped by Barker Dam (or, as I called it with Jess, "Bob Barker Dam"). It's a bit off the main road, and we just never made it up in that direction. It turned out to be completely awesome. The sun was starting to dip, leaving big areas swathed in shadow, and the colors of the rocks and plants were stunning. It's a short hike, slightly over a mile, but we loved every minute of it. As we left the park, dark was just starting to descend, and we rolled back into Casa Rosita being very happy.

C'mon, you'd spank the butt rock too. It's our new tradition.

Can you blame me for loving it here? Take what you see in the pictures, in beauty and peacefulness, and multiply it by infinity. That's what it's like. But better.

That night, Kat cooked us some baked chicken drumsticks, baked potatoes, asparagus, and salad. It was a simple but great dinner that tasted even better after having worked up an appetite from hiking. Later on, after more silly guitar playing and chatting, we put on a National Geographic DVD about the universe (we like the universe) and watched it while having a glass of wine from the bottle of Merlot that Carrie had provided. At some point around midnight, we all finally went to bed.

The last day of a Joshua Tree trip is always hard. I think each of moaned several times each about not wanting to leave. For this trip, we needed to be especially careful about not lollygagging for our last day; Jess had a 5:30 flight from LAX, and if we'd hit traffic on the way back, that could be a real problem.

Still, we didn't have to get out of there until noon, so first we enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon, hash browns, and toast. Afterwards, while Kat was in the shower and I was on the porch having a smoke, I heard and felt something odd. Over the past few days, we'd gotten used to the sound of the high wind rattling around the Casa, but this was different (and there was no wind at all Monday morning). I swung the door open and looked at Jess, who said, "What the hell is that?" Being a resident of Southern California since I was six years old, I knew the answer immediately. "That would be an earthquake," I said, waiting to be sure it wasn't a really large quake. It wasn't at least where we were located (the rumbling died down in about 20 seconds), and I congratulated Jess on having lived through her first seismic event. Kat, it turned out, didn't notice it at all. Still, it was the largest quake to hit the area in about three years, so since it didn't do much damage or cause any injuries, I can say that I enjoyed the extra added memories of this trip.

Jess enjoys a few minutes of lovely sunlight on Monday morning.

Farewell, Casa Rosita. We'll be back (probably sooner than later).

We packed up our stuff and loaded the Jeep. It's always sad leaving the Desert Lily, but at least we had one more fast stop to drop our keys off and say goodbye to Carrie. We chatted for a bit, and Carrie made a very tempting offer to have us back in the midst of the summer, at no charge. Trust me, we're already considering the possibility of that. Carrie also related a hilarious story about some elderly guests who had come to the desert looking for UFOs. But we had to roll, so after hugs, we were back on the road. Leaving on a Monday, there was almost no traffic the whole way between Joshua Tree and LA, and I made the 150-mile drive in a record two-hour time, hauling ass due west. Still, with Jess' flight being early we decided not to tempt fate, and I cut over the 105 freeway to drop her off directly at LAX on our way back.

Leaving Jess is also difficult... she's such a great friend and a fun person to be around, it's never easy to say goodbye when she returns home to the Midwest after visiting us. We made several not-entirely-kidding jokes about just kidnapping her and keeping her here in LA, but eventually logic won out, and we hugged our farewells at the white curb loading zone at the airport. Finally, Kat and I cruised down PCH to our home in Redondo Beach. The trip was done.

Ultimately, Joshua Tree effortlessly delivers what I expect. I don't need to be fawned over and pampered in a spa-like hotel. I don't want a thousand activities to do and places to go when I really need to get relaxed and recharged. Instead, Joshua Tree lives up to its reputation as a place of serenity, of healing, and of natural wonder, simply by being itself (and encouraging you to be yourself in every way). Simple and non-judgemental, the desert is still my favorite place to get away from it all, and choosing the Desert Lily to be the centerpiece of our trips has proven time and time again to be the right thing to do.

See you next time, Joshua Tree!

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