The Impervious Sun of Joshua Tree National Park

Arriving on a blue-black night, wind furiously howls past while counting too many cactuses before our turnoff—Los Angeles is a few hours and a lifetime away. The manicured perfection of Palm Springs nowhere in sight, the wild splatter of stars the one reminder that Joshua Tree is still planet earth.

Joshua Tree is a moonscape peppered with its namesake tree, which sprout out of rocks and sand with such a foreign profile they seem more like a Dr. Suess book come to life than something from this earth. In the morning, the sun, relentless in its brightness, heats the desert to a bake. Hummingbirds, beat their wings at impossible speeds, buzzing between cactus flowers. The wind still blows, but only gently enough to be a preview of the cool we won’t feel again until the sun departs behind the horizon.

Rusting cast iron skillets, secure everything that could blow, seem to hold the whole operation in place. The shower water seems so pure and rare, it feels like a sin. In town, bikers, hipsters, and desert cowboys sit side-by-side for breakfast at Crossroads Café. Here the locals wear their leathered skin with pride—long ago given up the relentless fight against the desert and its dust.

 

 

The farmers market breathes life into our winter-weary souls. The deepest of California elixirs—strawberries, kumquats, blood oranges, and avocados. We buy them in fumbled Spanish. Next door a doctor administers B12 shots and a volunteer runs a voter registration booth. A sign for healing crystals hangs overhead.

The desert exerts its mighty pull, reminding us we aren’t here for berries or omelets or B12, however fortifying. We’re here for the open space, the heat, and the thrill of staying found in a place so easy to get lost. Past the cars and hikers, picnickers and group vans, into the wild ruins where homesteaders once endeavored to live and find life in this dry land, pulling its marrow from the sand. The trails clear in the high noon heat but we press on, deeper into the park and through the mazes of the Cholla Cacti.

 

 

Looking to the Coachella Valley and further to Mexico as the sky turns purple at Keys View. The desert moon rises over a Joshua Tree. It’s dark and gets darker. The strange dark of open space without city lights. We move back into town to take our sundowner at Joshua Tree Saloon, a raucous contrast to the elements outside. Too windy for a fire, too sun-drunk to talk, we fall exhausted in our cabin off the grid. 

In the morning, passing town to reach the Fortynine Palms Oasis that shoot from the desert even at its driest peak. We depart, reluctant to empty the sand from our shoes. Reluctant to lose the tans emblazoned on the back of our necks put there by a sun too bold, too impervious to be put off.


Photography by: Madeline Weinfield