National Park Spotlight: Joshua Tree

I remember the exact moment when I fell in love with the outdoors, and it started with a rainstorm in the middle of the desert.

In January 2017, Ryan and I did what most new couples would never dare to do by embarking on our first road trip adventure together. We had been exclusively dating for about nine months, so spending long stretches in a car with the new love seemed entirely rational at the time. Truth be told, the trip was already planned, as I regularly traveled across country to visit my beloved Coachella Valley. I just spontaneously asked Ryan if he wanted to join me for my annual California excursion one day, not expecting much. He thought about it, and agreed to go under one condition: the trip had to be about more than California. I spent several months going into plan mode. We talked it over and decided we'd spend one night camping in Joshua Tree, something I had never done while I was living in the Golden State. With the itinerary finalized, we made our way to Roswell, Vegas, and Los Angeles before making the drive to my favorite national park.

The morning we were to arrive in JT, Ryan and I were moving kind of slow. We hung around LA for a while and stopped for camping provisions along the way. We finally got to Joshua Tree as the sun was settling in for the night. By the time we made it to Black Rock, it was so dark that we drove right past the visitor center and had to pay for our site the following morning. We used the headlights from the car for light and set up camp as quickly as possible. I gazed off into the horizon and sighed. We could see all of Coachella Valley and the high desert from there. The lights sparkled in the desert sky. After an hour or so, we had our fire started and were getting our food ready when I felt something fall on my face. I wiped my forehead and continued eating my veggie dog, not thinking much about it. Then, I felt a big drop fall from the sky and onto my arm. I looked down in horror as I realized it was starting to rain. Ryan and I hurriedly broke down the fire and moved our food to the Jetboil under our tarp. The rain started pouring down harder than I had seen it pour in recent memory. We packed up our things and decided to settle in for the night. The last thing I remember before I fell asleep was how cold the streams of water felt as they flowed under our tent. The rain spilled down on us, ferociously beating on the tent, and the steady sound slowly lulled us to sleep.

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The next morning was like any other day. I woke up before Ryan and stumbled outside of the tent. The ground was still wet from the night before and the air was thick with the smell of rain. My boots crunched on the saturated sand, and I stood in awe of all the dunes covered in twisted and deformed Joshua Trees. What a marvelous sight! As I stood there, soaking in the hope of a new day I felt something click. Ryan and I had survived! We had conquered the elements and thoroughly enjoyed a truly memorable camping experience! It is hard for me to put into words the visceral feeling that I experienced in that moment. I felt truly free for the first time in my existence. I felt all the fears that gripped my heart beginning to subside. The desert had challenged me, and I had passed the test. From that moment on, my connection to Joshua Tree was cemented. Nothing could break our bond. There is a silence in the desert that cannot be replicated. That silence resonates with me and soothes my soul. It brings me peace. That morning was the first time in my life I thought that maybe, perhapspossibly I could be an outdoors woman.

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By the time Ryan woke up, the sun was shining and the two of us couldn't wipe the dumb grins off of our faces. We were connected. As he cooked breakfast, he listened to me ramble on and on about how the previous night was perfect and unexpected and magical. We scarfed down the hot food and basked in the warmth of the morning sun as it dried up all the rain. That morning we made the decision to skip San Diego and stay an extra night in this special place, where we had successfully weathered the storm. Joshua Tree belonged to the two of us now, and we were not ready to let her go...

Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California about an hour away of Palm Springs. This park is the marriage of two deserts (Mojave and Colorado) with varying ecosystems. The plant and animal diversity is truly astounding! Peak season for the park is October to May before the summer heat rolls in. The $30 entrance fee gets your vehicle a 7 day pass to the park, and it is worth it!

THINGS TO DO: Camping, hiking, climbing, stargazing, birdwatching, mountain-biking, and so much more! MUST SEEJumbo Rocks CampgroundCholla Cactus GardenSkull Rock, and Night Sky Festival.

Anjanette Martin