Monday, May 13, 2019

Joshua Tree (May 9-12, 2019)

How many times have I been to Joshua Tree, you ask? Exactly not enough times is the answer. I started going to the Mojave Desert on scouting and camping trips in my childhood, and then, in October 2010, I wanted to introduce Christina to the area. We went back in June 2011, taking our friend Jess with us. The following year in June 2012, we took Bunny along for the ride. We went again in March 2013 (with Jess), and again in October of that same year. In November 2015, we went with both Jess and Bunny. We had a great trip there in March 2017, and again in April 2018. Surely we've done all there is to do and seen all there is to see there by now, right? Well, that's certainly not true... but even if it were, you can't feel all there is to feel in a place like Joshua Tree, and that will be the case no matter how many times we visit. I could turn around and go again next weekend if life's circumstances allowed for it. Since it's more likely that I won't get back there again for some time, though, I thought I'd write about my recent trip that lasted from Thursday May 9 through Sunday May 12.

This trip actually started before it started with the arrival of our friend Jess Smith. As mentioned above, Jess has accompanied Christina and I to Joshua Tree twice before. She flew out from Minnesota on Wednesday evening, and for dinner we went across the street to Miyoda Ichiriki, our excellent neighborhood sushi spot. We pigged out on various rolls and delicious bites of fish, and then headed back home to rest up for the next day.

Eating way too much sushi with Christina and Jess on Wednesday night.

As has been my pattern in recent years, I had some work to do before we could roll out of town, and I begrudgingly did so while also getting packed and ready to go. Since we were going with four people -- Bunny would be heading down here to accompany us -- we decided that our little Jeep Patriot was going to be super cramped, so we rented a larger SUV for the trip. It was our plan to get another Jeep, a new Grand Cherokee, but Hertz gave us a Ford Explorer XLT 4x4 instead. It was actually a really impressive vehicle and did just fine for our traveling and adventuring needs during the trip. Christina and Jess picked it up that morning. After Bunny's arrival, we loaded up the rest of our stuff into the SUV and hit the road after grabbing some trip snacks and hitting McDonald's for some poor nutrition.

It was a pretty uneventful drive. At one point, Christina realized that she was running dangerously low on caffeine, so since we were in no hurry to arrive, we did something we rarely do: we pulled off the freeway and stopped at a Starbucks. I believe we were somewhere in Moreno Valley at that point. Getting quickly back on the road with our gigantic cups of steaming brew, we once again turned on the eclectic road trip playlist that I'd procured for the occasion, and before we knew it we were heading up the 62, then going through Yucca Valley and into the amazement that is Joshua Tree.

Rancho Rincon, our favorite of Carrie Yeager's lovely cabins at The Desert Lily in Joshua Tree. Photo by not me... I always forget to take these kinds of pics.

After unloading the SUV, we typically all turn around and head back into town for some grocery shopping. The set of rental cabins where we stay -- owned and managed by our wonderful friends at The Desert Lily -- all have kitchens with pretty much everything you need to cook good meals. However, Bunny and I became rather paralyzed after the long drive, so Christina and Jess kindly took care of the shopping duties while Bunny and I pulled out our guitars and went to work on some music making (after ducking a few swoops from some bats). We did a few new tunes, inspired by our desert environs. In defense of our laziness, after the gals returned, he and I put away the groceries and then made dinner... a salad and some spaghetti with garlic bread. Yum.

Bunny and I ended up recording four or five new songs that evening, so that was cool. Also cool: the weather. Literally. It's never actually been raining in the desert during any of the trips we'd done this far, and we knew going in that precipitation was expected. But standing at the back of Rancho Rincon (our pretty cabin), lightning was visible all over the local valley, and eventually the rain kicked in. It was pretty awesome. It had, of course, been a long day of traveling, and I didn't stay up super late.

The first full morning of our vacation is pretty typical. Jess is still on Central time, so she tends to awaken pretty early. I'm still on midweek work time, so I generally don't sleep in much either. Bunny, however, is a person who naturally prefers to stay up super late and sleep in accordingly. Regardless, we knew we want to take advantage of the day, so I took over kitchen duty and whipped us up some french toast and bacon. We relaxed in the lovely tranquility of the area, but before too much more time had passed, we headed into the main attraction... Joshua Tree National Park. We stopped on the way to say hi to Carrie Yeager, the proprietor of The Desert Lily whom we've patronized for nearly a decade now, and met her beautiful new doggy friend Joya.

I will say -- without complaining at all, mind you -- that over the past ten years or so, the number of people inside the Park increases each time we've visited. I'm not sure why it's becoming more and more popular. It's been there a long time, so why now? I really don't know. But I will say that our first stop, which was at Barker Dam, was more full of people than I'd even seen it before. That didn't make it any less fun as we walked the trail and back. Next stop was at Cap Rock, where we had some snacks and I scampered up a rock (as I tend to do).

After that, we decided to hit a much less popular area, but one that's becoming one of our favorites: Hall of Horrors. It's nice in that it's more of a spot for serious climbers, and the general tourist traffic is tiny compared to the popular places like Barker Dam and Hidden Valley. We barely saw another person as we explored that area, thought we did run into plenty of lizards, black-tailed jackrabbits, and desert cottontails. It was awesome, even as I berated Bunny for leading us on dubious trails on the way back.

From the rear: Jess, Christina, Bunny and I somewhere on a trail.

Jess and I under a large rock.

Bunny and I at Barker Dam. It was chilly when we started out and then the sun broke through, so I'm not just being shirtless for sexy reasons.

The rest of the gang pointing at something while I do selfie duties at Hall of Horrors.

Jess and Bunny exploring a crack.

Being silly at Hall of Horrors.

We did need to get back to the cabin to clean up a bit, because we had rather early reservations at our favorite restaurant in the area: Pappy & Harriet's. A roadhouse of sorts, it's located up in Pioneertown and is both a renowned live music venue and an absolutely fantastic steak place. All four of us ordered rib eyes, and we ate until we all had the meat sweats... and then ate more. It drizzled a bit on our way back down to the cabin, and we chilled there for the remainder of the evening, looking out through the darkness at the thunderstorms that rolled through.

Ready to eat an amazing dinner at Pappy & Harriet's.

I mean, just look at that. OM fucking G.

Jess and Bunny plan their dinner attack strategies.

When you take your first trips into Joshua Tree, chances are that you want to spend every second exploring as much of the park as possible, and over my many trips, I've cruised around every hiking spot from the Cholla Gardens to Skull Rock to Hemingway Buttress to Quail Springs to Keys View to... you get the idea. And they're all so great that I've gone back to all of them multiple times, and will do so again on future trips. But there's no rule that you have to treat each trip completely as a hiking expedition. Christina and Jess wanted to use the day to do some rest and relaxation, so Bunny and I once again used the time (and the inspiration of the desert) to make some music.

Jess made her famous egg bake for breakfast, which was completely delicious. After some more lounging about, Bunny and I grabbed our guitars and worked through another big batch of songs. In total, we ended up doing 11 songs on the trip. Are all of them great? No, hell no. But many of them might be the launching point for some new They Stole My Crayon songs, and a couple of them were legitimately really good. I know we'll be fleshing those out over the subsequent weeks and months.

Bunny and I looking far more serious than we actually were at Rancho Rincon on Saturday.

I don't know why I'm looking like a ginger fuzzball in the afternoon sun, but there I am with my Dream Team.

Bunny, Jess, Christina and me on our porch at the Rancho.

Saturday was also all of snacking, chilling, and enjoying the unseasonably cool weather. On that day and over the course of the trip, I also did a number of Facebook Live videos form Rancho Rincon, using the surprisingly strong WiFi signal that had been added to the cabin since our last visit. Dinner that evening was grilled chicken breasts, baked potatoes, and asparagus. Yum.

Later that evening, the sky had cleared up enough to make use of the telescope we'd brought, so as the day drew to a close, I enjoyed watching Bunny, Jess and Christina looking at the moons of Jupiter from the back yard while we toasted marshmallows on an open fire.

No matter how long you stay in Joshua Tree, it never seems long enough. We lazed about a bit on Sunday morning, and then had a delicious bagel-based breakfast. But we knew the vacation was coming to a close, and Jess had a flight to catch from LAX, making the timeliness of our departure a little more focused.

With the better WiFi signal from the cabin, I continued to do little Facebook Live videos at various chill times throughout the trip. Here was my flow of thoughts on Sunday morning.

We got our stuff packed into the SUV and cleaned up the Rancho. We always make sure that the places we stay look immaculate, since we're always sure that we'll want to head back there at some point as a welcome guest. Speaking of which, we went by the Lily one last time to drop off the keys and say goodbye to Carrie and Joya. I'm sure we'll be seeing them again in the not-distant future. The drive back home started pretty typically, but then we ran into a major unexpected traffic snarl on the 10. Fortunately, that cleared up quickly, and the rest of the ride home was smooth and uneventful.

Christina always jokes on our way out of Joshua Tree that we're coming back up the following weekend, but there have been times that I actually considered the idea. I've also seen her poking through real estate listings on Zillow or the like, toying with the idea of buying a place up there. To be clear, I don't think I could appreciate desert life 12 months per year as much as I do on our sporadic visits, but there is something neat about the thought of having a place up there that could be ours to stay in whenever we wanted. Something to consider for sometime down the road.

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