Monday, April 30, 2018

Joshua Tree (04.26.18 - 04.29.18)

Relaxing on a boulder in Joshua Tree. Photo by Kat.

We -- Bunny, Christina and I -- just arrived back from a wonderful (but too short, as always) vacation in Joshua Tree, CA. Joshua Tree is our default vacation spot when our brains need a break from the daily routine of work and responsible life in general. You'd think that after years and years of going to the same spot, we'd have already grown bored with the area or at least already experienced everything there is to see there, but no... each visit to the desert always seems to be a unique experience in some way. On this particular trip, we had a number of firsts that all made the trip completely enjoyable and memorable.

We Accidentally Took the 10
My standard route to the desert has always been to head out on the 91 from there at the beach, cut north on the 605, and then take the 60 almost all the way out to the desert where it rejoins the 10 shortly before the 62. Got that? Good. Anyway, the day we departed on our trip -- Thursday April 26 -- we were talking and laughing and jamming tunes on the 605 north and suddenly I was like, "Hey, why is the exit for the 10 coming up? Did I pass the 60? What the hell is going on?" So basically, as opposed to turning around, I just took the 10 east all the way out to the desert by accident, and it was fine.

Miss your exit? No worries, there are always other ways to get where you're going. Red is our route there, blue the route back.

Welcome to House of the Hammock
We've stayed at the rental cabins of The Desert Lily Inn on many occasions, splitting our visits between Casa Rosita and Rancho Rincon. This time -- particularly because both of those cabins were booked -- we stayed at one of Carrie Yeager's properties that we hadn't been to before. Hacienda de la Hamaca was fantastic. It was much less rustic than her other places, which admittedly took away from a bit of the charm of the experience, with no dirt roads and such to deal with in getting in and out of the place. At the same time, it was absolutely luxurious... a nicely appointed place with large bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, and a great kitchen and living room areas for us to relax in style. The back patio area in particular was lovely, with a large shady veranda that ran the length of the building... the perfect spot to hang out with the rabbits, hares, quail, and lizards that romped through the yard.

Bunny having a meeting with his bunny friends in the backyard at Hacienda de la Hamaca.

Myself, Bunny and Christina on the back patio.

Full Moon Fever
As we noted that first night there, it was, for all intents and purposes, a full moon during this trip. Conversely, Christina and I have often planned these excursions around the time of new moons for the purpose of skywatching in the non-light polluted desert area. This trip was the first time we could admire the beauty of the desert in both day and night. It was great.

Go West Young Band
We started things pretty simply for our first excursion into Joshua Tree National Park for this trip. In fact, we've gotten to know the area so well that we put together playlists of music that we knew would go well with the surreal landscape of the desert, so we first enjoyed some slow driving through the park while listening to excellent songs in a multitude of genres. We casually stopped by Cap Rock and then went up to Keys View for the incredible sight of the entire Coachella Valley from about one mile in elevation.

After that, we decided to hit Barker Dam. It's one of the most well-known and popular areas of JTNP. Last time we went, it was so crowded that we blew it off, but we knew that if we didn't make it in on Friday, it wasn't going to get any better on Saturday. So, off we went, but soon found that the park had closed the eastern section of the trail, which forced us to head toward the dam in the direction we'd usually use to return. It was really neat and interesting, and gave us a new perspective on this awesome short hike.

Breakfast on Friday morning. We usually eat very well, both tastily and healthily, while we're in the desert.

Bunny and I, one mile high, at Keys View. Photo by Kat.

They Stole My Crayon at Barker Dam.

Bighorn Sheep Encounter
It was on our way back from Barker Dam that something amazing happened which was absolutely a highlight of this trip. Bunny was walking in front as we trudged through the sandy path, but then he suddenly froze and held up a hand. I noted that a small group of people a ways down the path coming in the opposite direction were similarly stopped, and then I glanced to the right. About 20 yards away, standing on level ground with us, was a magnificent bighorn sheep, a mature ram with his species' namesake horns pointed in our direction. In all my travels of the desert, I had never once seen one of these majestic creatures, and suddenly there was one directly in front of us. All the humans in the area stayed still and quiet, taking photos as the ram seemingly posed. After a few minutes that felt like an hour, he slowly turned and made his way back up into the rocks. Look, I've seen things up close in the desert that have blown my mind, including large snakes and coyotes and so on, but that sheep was something I'll never forget.

I've seen tons of wild animals while exploring Joshua Tree. This was my first Bighorn Sheep. Photo by Kat.

Being there next to him was a magical experience. Photo by Kat.

Fancy Desert Grilling
After getting back to the cabin -- er, luxury house -- after our exploration of JTNP on Friday, we were starved. As usual, we'd secured a ton of provisions at the grocery store in Yucca Valley on our arrival, but we knew ahead of time that instead of just cooking in the kitchen, we had a new choice in food preparation at the new cabin. There was a fancy gas grill on the back patio. Not quite "roughing it over a fire in the wilderness", the gas grill was excellent, and Bunny became the grillmaster as we ate delicious barbecued chicken and corn that night.

Full Crayon Jams
After dinner, we picked up our instruments. The desert, for whatever reason, is super inspirational for creating new music. We didn't plan anything out. Instead, we just allowed our fingers to find chord progressions and riffs that we could play together. Usually, on the musical side, it's just me and Bunny who do this kind of on-the-spot songwriting, but this time, Christina joined us in a big way, playing both bass and glockenspiel on our little jams. We recorded everything we did, and I can 100% guarantee that some of the themes we came up with will end up on a They Stole My Crayon album in the future. We stayed up pretty late, making music the whole time, and finally called it a night.

After the sun went down and we'd had our dinners, the instruments came out each night, and we captured some terrific stuff for future Crayon music.

No Fear at the Hall of Horrors
Over the many times we've visited Joshua Tree National Park, we've been through a good chunk of the various trails that don't involve a major (6+ mile) hike. One spot we'd never gone before as a group is a hiking/climbing zone called Hall of Horrors. I'm not 100% clear why it has such a frightening name; there might be some kind of passageway through the large rock formations that could be kind of scary. On Saturday for our first stop, Bunny and Christina and I had a lovely walk around the place that was off the beaten track a bit and was therefore less crowded than many more well-known areas on a perfect spring weekend. It was pretty cool being in a spot with very few people where the paths weren't completely clear, finding our own way around the lovely Mojave Desert.

Traipsing through the desert with my fantastic friends.

Bunny and Christina explore a crack in the rocks.

There were plants and birds and rocks and things.

Time for Pappy's
There's nothing new about our visiting Pappy & Harriet's on our trips to Joshua Tree. If we don't plan ahead and don't get reservations, we don't get to go. After cruising around to a few more spots in JTNP (including our regular stop at Hemingway Buttress where we always find cool places to explore and boulders to scramble on), we headed back to the Hacienda, got cleaned up, and then went straight up to Pioneertown where we had rather early reservations made weeks earlier. Pappy's has become super popular and cool, with the downside being that getting a table on a weekend needs to be a pre-planned activity. But plan we had, so at 5:30, we rolled in and got seated quickly. I can't describe the taste of food that comes off that magical grill there, but the three of us had a wonderful time eating way too much meat and drinking beers from mason jars.

Bunny and I being rock stars -- or at least eating dinner -- at Pappy & Harriet's.

Checking out the desert people outside of Pappy's with Kat.

More Jams
Back at the cabin that evening, we picked up our instruments once again and kept the Crayon jams going. In total, we created about 7-8 very useable song ideas with a ton of potential for continued development, way more than any previous trip where we might be lucky to get 1-2 usable new tunes. I'm already looking forward to the coming weekend so I can start fleshing out some of these musical ideas, since we recorded all of them.

A Blustery Drive Home
We had a relaxing Sunday morning, and then cleaned up Hacienda de la Hamaca and loaded our stuff for the usually uneventful journey home. There's nothing unexpected about hitting high winds while driving the 62 on the open plain toward the foot of the mountains just north of the 10 freeway. That's why there are those thousands of iconic wind energy machines in the San Gorgonio Pass. It's windy all the time there due to the terrain and the temperature variations between the desert and surrounding areas. But as we started our drive home on Sunday, it was already a very gusty day, and as I guided the Jeep down the mountain pass, it became apparent that this would be a memorable return trip. The wind was insane! I had to hold the wheel with both hands, making constant adjustments to try and keep us headed in a straight line while other cars were also being tossed around into both lanes and occasionally the shoulder. It was, in layman's terms, scary as fuck.

But once we made it all the way down and drove the 10 West for awhile, things settled down and I could drive in a more relaxed fashion than the "we're all going to die" stretch of road. Arriving safely home that afternoon, we were tired and gritty but happy, and already looking forward to the next trip to J-Tree, whenever that may be.

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