It was 3:30 am when the wheels of our rented compact car turned left into the dirt path of a driveway. Five-hundred miles south of San Francisco and according to Google Maps, we finally made it to Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert. Unaware of our surroundings, as everything around us was the darkest of black, yet we didn’t care. All we could think about was curling up under the fluffy white duvet and falling into a deep sleep. You know, the kind of sleep where your mouth is so wide open because of all the vivid dreams churning in the back of your mind? Yeah, that kind. After an eight-hour drive magically turning into twelve hours later, exhausted would be an understatement to describe our mental state.
The next day we woke up to an expansive grey sky blanketed with heavy, dark rain clouds. You’d think with my usual got-to-see-and-explore-everything mindset, I would be freaking out right about now. Especially since we only had two days here. But no, not in this case. Maybe it was the magic in the desert air, but this not-so-ideal weather did not damper my mood. Instead, it forced me to take the morning slow, which was just what I needed. A little time to reset, reflect and rest my mind for a bit.
For the next couple of hours, Derek and I spent the morning sipping [multiple] cups of coffee outside of the front porch chatting about life while listening to the rain. If only I could have froze that moment in time.
Once the rain subsided and the sky lite up a bit, we headed out to explore Joshua Tree National Park. You guys — what a special place. I can’t quite pinpoint what it was about the landscape that fascinated me so. Maybe it was the goofy-looking Joshua trees, lining the paved roads sprawling in all directions. Or maybe it was the humongous sculpted rocks stacked perfectly on one another. Or maybe it was the gloomy overcast leftover from the morning’s rainfall that planted a mysterious vibe over the vast wilderness itself.
I’m thinking it was all of the above.
Whatever it was, it sure did make exploring this slice of desert paradise worthwhile.
We turned a corner and all of a sudden we spotted what appeared to be glowing cacti, hundreds of them illuminating with light. Turns out, we had made our way to the cholla cactus gardens.
Miles and miles of cholla cacti. Let me just point out it was after we decided to meander around these fascinating species that I found out these cute cacti are actually quite dangerous. They are covered in spines that will latch into your skin with even the slightest touch. Maybe that’s why there were several signs that specifically stated to stay on the trail…
Looking back at the picture below, I sure am grateful I didn’t give in to my curiosity to find out how spiky these little bushes were. Oh, how so much could have gone wrong!
Despite our eyes yearning for more, our stomachs insisted on fueling up before continuing any kind of desert discovery. It was late in the afternoon by this point, but as soon as we stumbled upon this mom-and-pop country kitchen that served breakfast ALL day, we immediately swerved over.
If you are ever in the area, I couldn’t recommend this cozy space more. Do you see those pancakes below? Warm, thick, fluffy, and filled with blueberries and bananas. It may not have been a healthy stack of hot cakes, but it sure was a party for our taste-buds.
We couldn’t end day-one without making a pit-stop at Cactus Mart. Ah, now this place is a cactus lover’s paradise. Everything from cacti to succulents and any desert plants you can imagine, all right at your fingertips. If only we had a tad more room in our teeny-tiny smart car…
Thinking back, maybe it was for the best we didn’t have any leftover space, as I don’t know how I would have picked just one baby cactus to take home. I about lost it when I saw the sign to dig your own succulent for only 59 cents!
The next morning we woke up to a glorious sunrise. Miraculous, really. Holding my coffee mug tightly between both hands, I stood there on the concrete slab of the front porch and embraced the sun’s warmth on my skin. Such a wonderful feeling. It was during this moment when I realized why people fall in love with this area so quickly. Free from the entanglement of distraction and chaos that sometimes comes with living in the city, the desert life is wonderfully simple, quiet and calm.
With such a beautiful day before us, we headed back into the park for more exploring. We were both stunned at the difference the sun makes. The terrain seemed so much more alive. So different than what we experienced just a day before.
There they all were: tall, woolly-looking Joshua trees planted as far as the eye could see.
What an eclectic masterpiece of nature. So unique and yet so beautiful.
Disclaimer: that adventurous rock-climber up there on that massive boulder — not me. Or Derek. Don’t worry, Mom!
Maybe one day we’ll be that awesome.
Joshua Tree, you take wanderlust to an entirely new level. I hope we meet again someday.