We're home from another trip to that crazy, kooky, and beautiful spot in the Mojave Desert... Joshua Tree, CA. It was the third time that Kat and I took a 150-mile drive east across California (read more about the first and second times, if you want). This time, we brought our pal Bunny with us, making the trip all the more fun and silly. Here's a short travelogue about our vacation.
Thursday June 7
In the weeks preceding our trip, Kat had been feeling burned out, and I wasn't exactly feeling chipper either. The wear and tear of everyday life needs to be broken up by events that provide real memories, so we decided to take a trip to the desert. Our departure date was Thursday June 7. Bunny was dropped off at my place in Redondo Beach at about 2PM, and a short while later, we had Kat's Jeep packed to the gills with luggage, backpacks, musical instruments, and other stuff. After a quick stop to grab snacks and coffee for the road, we hit the freeway at 3PM and then stopped. On the freeway. See, there seems to be some rule that no matter what day of the week or time of day we depart on a vacation, traffic is going to suck badly, and suck it did. The 91E was basically jammed for the first 70 miles of our trip, but with Kat and Bunny there for conversation and a "desert rock" playlist cranking on the iPod, it wasn't that bad at all. It did turn what should have been a 2-1/2 hour drive into a 4-hour journey, so it was close to 7PM when we pulled off the paved road of Park Blvd. and onto the dirt roads leading into the Desert Lily. Carrie Yeager (more on her later) had left Casa Rosita open for us, so we parked the Jeep and unloaded our cargo.
After a short while of relaxing and enjoying the hell out of the quiet beauty of a pleasant desert evening, we forced ourselves to get back in the Jeep and made a run to the grocery store for provisions. We also stopped by Taco Bell and did a gluttonous festival of fast Mexican food for dinner back at the cabin. It had been a long day of working and then driving, and after showing off the amazing J Tree night sky to Bunny for awhile, we hit the hay, ready for the real fun to begin the following day.
Friday June 8
After a good night's sleep, we got up. Well, Kat and I did; Bunny tends to stick to vampire hours, and goes to sleep and wakes up rather late when he can. But we didn't let him sleep very long; there was an entire national park five minutes away from us. Kat made a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes, and bacon, and a short while later we slathered on sunblock, filled our backpacks with water, and headed into Joshua Tree National Park.
There's been a lot written about this incredible place, but no matter how many words you read or how descriptive they are, nothing really does justice to the actual experience of being there. Even after a good number of desert trips over the course of my life, I am stilled awed by the serene beauty each time I go. It's always just as good as the first time. Sometimes, it's even better. In any case, I'm not going to give too much space to the amazing landscapes and natural beauty of JTNP; look at the photos if you want to get a better idea of what it's like.
As usual when pulling into JTNP, we couldn't wait to get to the first stop we'd planned, and pulled into one of the many small roadside exhibits to marvel at the landscape. Soon afterwards, we made our first stop in the park at Quail Springs. After a short while of scampering around the rocks, we hit one of my favorite spots, Hemingway Buttress. Bunny is definitely an explorer, as I discovered quickly during this trip. We went further into Hemingway than we'd done in either of our previous trips, walking all the way to the rock face and then back around. After spending a good hour walking, oohing and ahhing, we went to what is always one of our very favorite spots in JTNP, Hidden Valley. We spent another hour slowly walking through the nature trail. By then, it was after 3PM, and the sun was really cranking. We decided to head back to the cabin to chill (literally) for a bit.
Bunny and I played guitars while Kat kicked back in the cool Casa Rosita. We managed to come up with a couple of cool chord progressions and riffs, and we actually remembered to pull out the mics and gear we'd brought for this specific purpose and record some stuff. Later on, it was the guys' turn to cook while Kat relaxed and drank some merlot. I made a three-cheese tortellini with pesto sauce, and Bunny made a delicious salad (who better to prepare a salad than a Bunny, I ask you?). After dinner, we once again marveled at the night sky show that the desert provides. In the very late evening, we connected the Wii to the TV and played some Mario Party 2. It was silly and fun, and a great way to end a magnificent day.
Saturday June 9
We knew that Saturday would be the perfect day to really delve deep into the park, so that's what we did after waking up leisurely and enjoying some bagels. There were a number of spots in the park that were on Bunny's wish list, and several of them included areas that Kat and I had never seen before. We were excited to get in there, but first we stopped inside the Desert Lily to see Carrie, the proprietor and innkeeper. She's a warm and wonderful person, and it's always like seeing an old friend when we visit her. While we were there, Kat remember to ask Carrie to make some dinner reservations for us that evening at Pappy & Harriet's, a famous food and live music spot in nearby Pioneertown.
Since we all wanted to check out the Cholla Cactus Gardens which was deep inside the park, we headed that direction first. We stopped briefly on the way to see Skull Rock, which indeed was a big rock that looked somewhat like a skull. Then we kept going. As we rolled along, we watched the external thermometer in Kat's Jeep keep climbing. Right about the point it hit 96 degrees F, we arrived. Whew! There's a big temperature difference between the higher and lower elevations in the Mojave. Cholla Cactus Gardens is interesting, and thankfully short, given the heat; I'd recommend you check out this spot in the early spring or late fall as opposed to mid-June.
We were a little cranky from the heat as we headed back toward the higher points of the park, but as we drove, we saw another area we'd never ventured to before: Split Rock. It seemed to have picnic facilities available, so we headed in, and it was great! We enjoyed our sandwiches and drinks we'd packed, and then wandered around the big rock formations and took some pictures. After that, it was time for some serious uphill driving, all the way to the highest easily-accessible point in JTNP: Keys View. We drove up to the 5000' point where Keys View overlooks the entire Coachella Valley. Even in the prevalent haze, the view is incredible. Bunny also enjoyed the marked change in flora, as the plants up there got more moisture in the cooler, higher altitude.
Back down at the bottom of the hill, we stopped at Cap Rock and cruised the short but fun nature trail there. After that, it was time to get back down to Casa Rosita to shower and get ready for dinner. We cruised up to Pappy & Harriet's, and were a wee bit early for our reservations, but they seated us quickly after asking if we minded being near the band (hell no we don't mind!). Take my advice: if you go there, glance nicely at the menu and then immediately order the rib eye steak. It's honestly one of the best steaks I've ever had in my life.
While we ate, we were treated to the sounds of The Far West, an LA-based country band that was really good. While Bunny, Kat, and I tend to lean toward the rock as our preferred musical style, we all appreciate well-performed music and well-written songs, and The Far West had both of those in droves. They were a tight band, and we all enjoyed their performance very much. I was practically seated on stage next to the lead guitarist, and even with my high standards, was impressed with his playing and the great tones he was coaxing from his Strat and Les Paul. The whole night there was terrific.
Back at Casa Rosita later that night, we once again turned to Mario Party 2 and some sky/moon watching for fun before hitting the hay (which somehow didn't happen until 2AM, making it a very late night for this Zakster).
Sunday June 10
We all slept in the next day... Bunny more than Kat or I, as you'd expect. After getting up and sadly acknowledging that today was our final day in the desert, we all enjoyed delicious omelettes a la Kat. After getting the cabin somewhat cleaned up and our stuff sort of packed, we headed straight back into the park and hit up both Quail Springs and Hemingway Buttress again. The day was gorgeous... it had cooled down gradually throughout our stay, and it was in the mid-80s and perfect on Sunday in the park.
Much to our dismay, time was moving much too fast and we had to go. One more trip to Casa Rosita to gather our belongings and give it some final clean-up, and then we hit the road, stopping for burgers as we pulled out of town. Unlike our trip there, the return drive was unexpectedly smooth sailing. We only hit a bit of traffic and made a stop for gas in Riverside, and then we were suddenly back home. After four days in the desert, the beach air around my home felt pretty good, I must admit. Since I'd driven the entire trip, I hopped out, and Kat took Bunny back home to the Valley.
The trip couldn't have gone better, and we got everything we wanted from it. I won't bother captioning the photos below; just imagine yourself in the most relaxed mood you've ever been in, at a place that is serene and beautiful as anywhere you've ever seen. Now you can add your own captions.