Monday, April 25, 2016

Joshua Tree (April 20-23, 2016)

When I was a very young child, I had this image of the desert that was probably inspired by cartoons. In my mind, the only kind of desert was that found in the middle of the Sahara, comprised only of endless sand dunes and certain death. It wasn't until I was in Boy Scouts that I first set foot in an actual desert, here in Southern California, only a few hours' drive from my home near the beach. It wasn't like the cartoons. Not at all. In the Mojave Desert, there were plants growing all over the place... they were just different than those I was used to seeing. Likewise, it wasn't a place of death; I saw more wildlife around me than I ever had in the suburban environs from whence I came. It wasn't full of sand dunes. It was full of everything.

So, as any reader of this blog knows, I really fell in love with the desert, and especially since I first took Christina there in 2010, I've gone back at every opportunity, and I've just returned from yet another fantastic trip. A brief aside: the desert is not for everyone. It can be a extraordinarily different experience for different people depending on where you go, when you go, and what you're into.

We'd last gone to the desert in November of 2015. That wasn't very long ago, and normally we'd have likely waited a bit to plan another trip. But at the start of February, I saw an announcement that swayed our decision greatly: two bands we enjoy a lot -- Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter -- had scheduled a show at Pappy & Harriet's during the week between the two sets of Coachella festival dates. I mentioned this to Christina (aka Kat) and Bunny, not really expecting that we'd be able to attend. But they were both into the idea, and it didn't take a lot of convincing on their behalf to get me to buy in to the idea of spending a few days in paradise.

In the Jeep, heading into the best place on Earth. No, I definitely don't mean Disneyland. Photo by Christina.

Wednesday April 20
I don't know about most people, but the closer I get to a vacation, the harder I have to work to make up for the fact that I'll soon be missing in action. The first couple days of the week were a grind, and I was in meetings right up until the moment we were scheduled to depart. Christina, meanwhile, had gone up to the Valley to pick up Bunny, our bandmate, friend, and traveling companion on many of these desert trips. We got rolling shortly after 12PM, but had to stop and gas up the Jeep, and then get some provisions for our trip (and some lunch for ourselves... no need to start the trip starving). The drive itself was very smooth, with few points of traffic. We were headed, of course, toward our favorite place to stay, the Desert Lily Inn.

Those of you who've heard this story can skip ahead, but humor me while I tell it again. In October 2010, Christina and I had scheduled a much-needed vacation, and she had never been to the desert, which I was pretty sure she'd enjoy. Being modern people, we'd used the Internet and booked a place to stay online. The day before we were leaving, on a whim, I called the place to confirm our reservations were set (despite having received an online confirmation, yada yada). The elderly-sounding guy who answered the phone let me know a) they didn't check the online bookings often, b) therefore had no reservation for us at all, and c) there was a quilting convention in town, and they were booked full. We had no place to stay. It could have been devastating, but after some fast searching, we found the Desert Lily, and miraculously they had a room in the B&B available.

We went, and absolutely loved it... the place itself, and its owner, Carrie Yeager. We discovered on that trip that Carrie also had a number of cabin rentals available. It seemed a bit much for just the two of us, but the following June, our friend Jess flew out to join us, and the three of us stayed at Casa Rosita, a lovely little house that we had to ourselves. We went back a year later in June 2012, this time with our friend (and soon-to-be bandmate at the time) Bunny, staying again at Casa Rosita. And again in March 2013 (with Jess). And again in October of that year. The following June, we went again, and stayed at a different cabin of Carrie's, this one called Rancho Rincon, where we stayed again last November with both Bunny and Jess.

This trip had us staying in Casa Rosita, which is plenty big enough for the three of us. We arrived right about 4PM, and started to unload the Jeep. Christina started to take a step off the porch and then, noticing movement below her right foot, made a sound like, "Ngyaaaa," as I simultaneously grabbed her shoulder to pull her back from the six foot snake that had appeared. It turned out it was a friendly and harmless (to humans, as opposed to rodents) Great Basin Gopher Snake, a beautiful creature who didn't really want to hang out with us but stayed long enough for us to enjoy its company.

Our new desert friend. Photo by me.

Chatting with Bunny outside of Casa Rosita. Photo by Christina.

We didn't have a lot of time to lallygag as we usually would when arriving. The show at Pappy & Harriet's was that same night. Bunny cooked up a delightful dinner of penne pasta and a green salad which we ate, and then it was time to go. Let me tell you a bit about the place we went. On our first trip to Joshua Tree, we asked Carrie at the Lily where we should go for a good meal. She immediately told us about Pappy & Harriet's, a place that I'd heard about quite a lot but hadn't been to, and was entirely new for Christina. We went and loved everything about it. If you're anything like us, so will you. We've been there just for the dinner - please have a rib eye with the garlic potatoes and veggies if you love life at all. We've also been for concert events, since Pappy's has both indoor and outdoor music venues. We saw desert rockers Fatso Jetson and Eagles of Death Metal there in 2014. But no matter the reason, just go. It's just fucking cool. So cool, in fact, that it was #21 in L.A. Weekly's "50 Best Live Music Venues in Los Angeles", despite being 130 miles east of the city.

We arrived, got the prerequisite wristbands to indicate that we were allowed to be inside and allowed to drink alcohol if we so chose. As we walked in, an ambient music band made up of a sax/flute player and two synthesizer guys were droning their thing. I found out later this was Bitchin' Bajas, and they set the somewhat psychedelic mood nicely. UMO hit the stage around 8:30, and did a really great set. The three of us were standing near the side stage artist entrance, and shook the hand of drummer Riley Geare as he got off the stage, congratulating him on a fine performance.

UMO onstage at Pappy's. Beyond awesome. Photo by Christina.

The side of my face at the side of the stage. Photo by Christina.

An inebriated Bunny chastises me for some imaginary transgression. Photo by Christina.

Deerhunter putting on a great show at Pappy's on 4/20. Photo by Christina.

Deerhunter hit the stage not long afterwards, and I was equally impressed by them. Frontman Bradford Cox informed the crowd about some sad news after the first song, though: he dedicated the performance to his stepmother, who had passed away earlier that day. It didn't seem to put a damper on his show; he was energetic and charismatic, and the band played flawlessly.

Christina and I aren't big drinkers; we had one beer each that night. Bunny, though, more than made up for our lack of alcohol consumption, and was a silly drunk as we departed and headed back to Casa Rosita. It had been a long day, and we only stayed up for another hour or so before heading to bed.

Thursday April 21
It's not easy for me to sleep in. I am awakened daily by an alarm at 6AM, and even on normal weekends, it's rare for me to sleep past 8:00. That day, both Christina and I got out of bed around that time, and made coffee, and did our usual desert stuff of walking around and marveling at the beauty around our little home. We had discovered on our previous trip that cellular service had improved in the area, so as we had our coffee, we sat at the dining room table and checked the news. Seeing a particular report raised some alarm with me. A body had been taken out of Paisley Park, the compound of iconic musician Prince. As much as I hoped the worst wouldn't be confirmed, it shortly was. Right around the time Bunny awoke at 9:30, we just got news that Prince had died.

It was a huge shock to us, like it was to so many people who'd loved the music he'd done over the last 40 years. After some appropriate mournful moments, we refused to let it put a damper on our trip, and instead decided to dedicate our good times and music creative activities we'd planned to the Purple One.

We hadn't been on a big store run yet, but still had some bagels and cream cheese that sufficed for breakfast, which we ate while talking about Prince. The big plan for Thursday was just that: planning. We had a list of items to discuss in regard to the upcoming release of the debut album by our band They Stole My Crayon. We did eventually get to the grocery store and got all the stuff we'd need for the next few days. After having lunch and settling in, we started the process of going through our album, song by song, and discussing all the little details that would help us prepare to get it completed and out to the public. It took hours, but was well worth it.

We then went not far down the street from our abode, and had dinner at the Joshua Tree Saloon. We'd been once before, with Jess, but it was Bunny's first time there, and we enjoyed some beers and a perfectly acceptable steak. It was fun. Afterwards, back at the Casa, we got into working on some new music.. just some loose ideas that we came up with on the fly, but enough to get some complete rough demos recorded. And then it was time to sleep, which we did.

Even after many trips there, I can't remember the desert looking so perfect as it did on this trip. Photo by Christina.

This is literally our "yard" at Casa Rosita. You don't have to go far to find beauty in JTree. Photo by Bunny.

Getting some beers at the bar at Joshua Tree Saloon while they found us a table. Photo by me.

Back at the Casa, getting ready to make some new Crayon tunes. Photo by Christina.

Friday April 22
You may have noticed that having been in Joshua Tree for a couple of days, we had yet to venture into what is undoubtedly its main attraction: Joshua Tree National Park. Apart from the show we saw Wednesday night, we were on a very casual schedule, and all three of us have explored nearly every inch of the park on previous trips. That didn't diminish our love for it, of course. When you go through the gates, you suddenly realize that you have no idea what our planet actually looks like, because it seems you've blasted through space and time to a different world, or into another dimension. For those visiting for the first time and wondering what to do, I'll give you four places to go in the Park: 1) Hidden Valley, 2) Barker Dam, 3) Cap Rock - good for people who might have trouble with the mild hiking of the other two, and 4) Keys View. There are many more, but those will be enough to give you a fair picture of JTNP's greatness.

On Friday morning, I cooked up some hash browns and eggs, and then got dressed and headed into JTNP. It was both National Park Week (which meant free admission) and Earth Day, and none of us could imagine a better time to become one with nature. On this trip, we first stopped at Quail Springs for a short visit, and then headed up to Barker Dam, where we did the full mile-plus loop. Due to recent rains, the desert was in bloom, and it was probably the most breathtakingly pretty view of the Park as we'd ever experienced. We took our time walking through, and then went up to Keys View. The ride up the winding road was spectacular, highlighted by fields of yellow, orange, and red flowers, and a deeper green of the many trees and plants that were thriving.

With Bunny at Barker Dam. Photo by Christina.

The Crayon in the desert. Photo by me.

A mile above sea level at Keys View, looking down on the San Andreas fault. Photo by me.

Late in the afternoon, we were all hungry, and headed back to the Casa for lunch. Christina made sandwiches while I chopped us up a huge vegetable platter which we devoured. No trip to Joshua Tree is complete without some serious chill-out time, so after lunch we kicked back and read. It's important to take at least some of your vacation time to truly relax and recharge your energy. But we are a band, and we had instruments and recording gear with us. It wasn't long before we started back into working on new songs. Not only was it a productive writing session, but we also managed to spend a good chunk of the night laughing uproariously at ourselves. At one point, when Christina was trying to throw down a scratch vocal line, the following exchange happened.

Christina: I sound like a dying cow over here.

Slightly Drunk Bunny: If you sound like a dying cow, just own that shit. It's like, "Moo moo moo, I'm dying over here, hey!"

Perhaps you had to be there, but that struck me as being so funny that I nearly lost all control of my bodily functions. We ended up deciding to name the company we'd formed to publish our music as such. We ate a delicious dinner of chicken and salad, and recorded tunes until after midnight, at which point my energy ran low and it was time to sleep once again.

Amazing sunset from our back yard at Casa Rosita. Photo by Christina.

Me, photographing the sunset. Photo by Bunny.

Saturday April 23
It doesn't matter how long you stay in Joshua Tree; it's never quite long enough. Even if I'd been there for three weeks instead of just three days, I'd still feel like I was leaving too soon. It's a good thing, I suppose, but it doesn't make it any easier to pack up and go. We took our time; Carrie has always been cool with us taking our time to get out of her place. After a delicious egg breakfast, we cleaned up the Casa and packed our stuff back into the Jeep.

On top of my unofficial rock at Hemingway Buttress. Photo by Christina.

We decided to make one last foray into the Park, this time to stroll around Hemingway Buttress. We lingered a bit there, not being in a hurry to get back to civilization, but wanting to beat the inevitable traffic heading back to LA. Then we semi-sadly got on the road. After brief stops for gas and food, we were heading due west toward home. I'm happy to say that the return trip was as fast and smooth as the departure, and by 4:30, I was pulling into my driveway in Redondo Beach.

One nice note about this vacation: since it started earlier than usual on a Wednesday, we returned on a Saturday and then had a full day to relax a bit before jumping back into the fray. All three of us agreed that it was a great time, and we were very happy we'd chosen to go. I have yet to regret a single minute I spent in JTree, or a single dollar I spent to be there. I'm pretty sure I never will.

No comments: