The foundation of the myth – Yucca brevifolia
I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I want to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name
U2 – “Where The Streets Have No Name”
This landscape is the stuff of legend. Bold. Uncompromising. Mysterious. Mythic. No wonder that it has held such power over generations of explorers and artists. Gram Parsons. The Eagles. U2. Queens of the Stone Age. Modern day pilgrims come to the desert to find inspiration, answers and a little peace away from the pulse of the city.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that in all the years I’ve lived in California, I have only been to Joshua Tree National Park on two occasions. The most recent excursion was this past October. On a whim we left Los Angeles Saturday morning for a drive around the Salton Sea, an afternoon snack of date shakes and a stop at Salvation Mountain. Exhausted from temperatures that peaked at 106°, we spent the night at a French inspired hotel in Palm Springs. Renewed and full of vigor in the morning, we headed straight for the park.
Joshua Tree National Park spans close to 800,000 acres. Wikipedia says it’s about the size of Rhode Island. The Mojave and Colorado deserts meet in the park at a change in elevation. Sensitive visitors can spot the shift in vegetation. The rest of us rely on illustrated signboards along the roadside. Junipers, piñon pines, several varieties of oak; creosote, ocotillo, cholla and yucca.
The park is strewn with boulders. Gigantic, smooth masses honed by eons of patient blowing sand. More awesome in the true sense of the word than the spectacle of an isolated Levitated Mass. Here you witness the ancient grandeur of natural forces operating on a time scale we can scarcely comprehend.
…there is a simplicity about large masses – simplicity in breadth, space and distance – that is inviting and ennobling. And there is something very restful about the horizontal line. Things that lie flat are at peace and the mind grows peaceful with them. Furthermore, the waste places of the earth, the barren deserts, the tracts forsaken of men and given over to loneliness, have a peculiar attraction of their own. The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love. You think that very strange perhaps? Well, the beauty of the ugly was sometimes a paradox, but to-day people admit its truth; and the grandeur of the desolate is just as paradoxical, yet the desert gives it proof.
John C. Van Dyke “The Desert”
The desert is enchanting. Though generally inhospitable to human occupation without extreme technological subjugation (imported water, mechanical air conditioning, In-N-Out Burger), the native flora and fauna are inspiring. As I wrote earlier – bold, uncompromosing, mysterious and mythic – their adaptation to an environment of fierce conditions recalls Antoine de Saint Exupery’s poignant observation “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”
Curious explorers Scott M B Gustafson and Tallulah West
Stamp in my notebook
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