Just above the tiny town of Joshua Tree, on the edge of the national park with the same name in the Mojave Desert, we found our rented house. A Technicolor house, street side painted persimmon, the other side in shades of chartreuse.
The owners of the house are a Hollywood director and costume designer, and their house is full of an eclectic mix of second-hand pictures and furniture, shelves with books about the desert, movie posters, and videos (labels indicated they were sent to a member of the Academy for Academy Award review).
Saturday morning as we drove the paved road into the park, we saw piles of room-size boulders scattered across the desert floor. It’s said they look like casually piled giant’s blocks, but their edges are softened and their surface gritty like sandpaper.
Joshua trees (a species of yucca) stand widely apart as far as the eye can see. They look endearing as they lift their sturdy branches (pompons of spiny prickles for leaves) in welcome or startle. (Posing for photos it was always temping to lift our arms and bend our hands in imitation.)
In a cold wind but bright sun, we began a hike to an old mine. We tried to follow a sandy trail, sometimes marked and sometimes hidden, through scrubby low-growing pinyon and juniper. Flat at first, the route climbed steeply up a rocky hill to a plateau.
Thanks to watching another party who knew the route, we found the easy-to-miss mineshaft and miner’s shack. Built into a boulder pile, the shelter has a glass window (with most panes intact), a fireplace and cook stove (mortared rocks for chimneys), a natural bed-shaped alcove, and an insert of shingled roof made from flattened cans. Packing-box shelves held rusty tin cans.
We sat outside to eat lunch looking off toward more park in the distance, and talked about what it would be like to spend the night in that cabin – wondering if it would be warm from the fires.
Sunday morning we hiked up Ryan Mountain, hoods raised against the cold wind – 1000 feet of elevation gain but with a well-worn path including many steps cut from rock. At the top – 5000 feet up – we could see in all directions – but found a sheltered spot lower down for lunch.
I loved seeing a brand new landscape – and two tarantulas, pink pincushion cactus, car-sized boulders balanced precariously on others, and shrubby blooming plants growing impossibly from cracks in a rock face. But best of all, I loved being together – from oatmeal in the morning to sitting by the fire at night, stars overhead, and plenty of laughing at parental foibles.
It feels really lucky to have been on the edge of the young people’s lives for a few days – and then do something different, together, on the weekend.