It’s been a year exactly since the last time I made the drive to Joshua Tree. S and I plan to leave early on the day after Christmas, but it’s nearly ten by the time we drag ourselves out of the apartment, stopping for coffee and a picnic lunch before starting east on our two plus hour journey.
We get to the desert by one. The day is chilly and breezy but the sun blasts heat from above and the result is a tough compromise; a constant dance between jacket on/ jacket off. We choose easy, meandering hikes. The Barker Dam. The Hidden Valley. We see plenty of other visitors but they all melt away the further in we get. The entrance to the Hidden Valley is a bottleneck of Patagonia jackets but everyone disappears a quarter mile into the gentle dip of desert. The rock formations rise around us in every direction. The sun is setting quickly and everything is half shadowed, half orange. When we’re not in the sun, we’re freezing.
With forty-five minutes to sunset, we drive up to Keys View, elevation 5185 feet. The wind there is almost unbearable but we jump the fence and crouch down against a stone wall. The valley is shrouded in haze and the sun is only inches from the San Bernardino Mountain Ranges. In the valley below us we see the San Andreas Fault. I follow the line it cuts through the earth as far as I can see. Both directions. I point it out to S.
How do you know that? he asks.
I read it in the guidebook, I say.
The sun starts to set. Someone yells at someone else for smoking. A mother behind us lurches after her wobbling toddler and almost crashes into me.
Like a blink, the light is gone. All around us, photographs are taken. Someone behind me says: Just like that.
Just like that.
Behind us, the sky on the horizon has turned blue and pink. A bright, unnatural blue. A sharp, domineering pink. I’ve never seen anything like it. I raise my camera to take a picture and realize, even then, it will never do it justice.
I take the photograph anyway.
photographs taken in Joshua Tree National Park