The first thing about Joshua Tree is how big it is and the second is how remote it feels—like you’re days away from civilization and not just an hour’s drive from Palm Springs. Amanda and I got up early, ate yogurt and granola in the hotel restaurant (It used to be a Denny’s, she said) and drove mostly in silence, tired despite a respectable amount of sleep the night before. The park opened at 8—we were among the first ones there. At first we pulled over every five minutes (That’s a cool rock! Look at that tree!) but then we stopped at the ranger’s station, got a map, and saw how expansive the whole thing was. After that we became more choosy, stopping only after a half hour’s worth of driving.
It begins and ends almost abruptly. One minute you’re driving through a wasteland of houses, desert-dirt front lawns and dusty swing sets, and the next minute you’re entering or leaving the park. The big Joshua Trees are clustered together near the west entrance. We kept thinking there’d be a better place to stop and so we kept going and then suddenly it was over, they were done, we were leaving. We were out in scattered civilization again. My bus was scheduled to leave in an hour. We ate fries and ice cream at the only restaurant within miles—a rest stop Wendy’s.
Later my bus broke down and I spent three hours in a tiny desert town. I sat up against a one-room closed Greyhound station to steal the only bit of shade around. I made a friend from Minnesota—a young girl with pretty eyes, dirty clothes and a look of quiet aloofness around her face. She’d taken the bus all the way here, she was taking it all the way back. Forty hours of highway. My real mother lives here, she told me. I have two families now.
She sat next to me on the bus, too. She kept talking over my headphones, offering me food. Finally I pretended to be asleep. If she’s reading this now, well—sorry. Sometimes you just want to be alone.
That night S and I got pasta and wine at a restaurant in downtown LA. The first bartender refused to serve me; my license expired a few days ago. I’ve been twenty-eight for a week and a half. I hope this year continues to be kind.
photographs taken in Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, California
with a Canon 60D and 24-105mm f/4 lens.