Read more about our stay in Palm Springs here.
During our stay in the desert of southern California, we spent a day further in the Mojave desert. Driving down the Twentynine Palms Highway, winding up to higher ground, the dark grey sky sat heavy on the horizon. This was the first day on the SoCal leg of out trip that it really felt like winter, it lent a different quality to the desert landscape than one normally sees in photos. This area is of interest ecologically, a place where two desert landscapes blur. It shoulders where High Mojave and the Low Colorado deserts merge. This strange feeling sits low to the earth here, the jarring and contrasting landscapes provide a true otherworldy experience. This small part of the world has inspired some of our favourite music: desert rock, Josh Homme, and U2’s eponymous album. Rancho de la Luna is one of the recording havens for many artists; John Lennon and Jim Morrison also both recorded music in this corner of wilderness.
The High Desert
First stop was coffee at Cafe Frontier in Yucca Valley for two flat whites and two buttery chunks of coconut-oat flapjack. Attached to the cafe was Hoof and the Horn, a store with bohemian homeware and western-inspired clothing, where we wondered around with our coffees. I bought a beautiful handwoven throw that I was willing to forgo a few clothing items in order to fit into our case. This shop seemed to embody our spiritual home, a far cry from our current past-paced city existence.
Empty intersection in Yucca Valley
‘They say that this part of the desert has a ‘two or three year rule’
Driving off the highway up into the hills, we headed for Pioneertown. Historically created as a wild west film set, the ‘town’ still operates today with a saloon, motel and selection of small stores. Still, the heavy grey sky loomed over us, a reminder that most people were home with their families during this time of limbo between Christmas and New Year. I forgot my jacket in the car when we got out at Pioneertown, I could feel the ghostly desert cold seep into my bones and we cut our stroll short, in favour of the warmth of our car.
Above: Entry to Pioneertown; Below: Pioneertown Motel
Joshua Tree National Park welcomed us, and our little jeep wound through the nearly empty roads. Getting out several times for photo stops, the silence almost became the third passenger on our drive.
Joshua Tree N.P Entrance
Above and below: desolation in Joshua Tree
Imagining what it would be like to visit in the height of summer, at first I felt let down that we were missing that true ‘desert’ experience due to the rain. However, we really had the place to ourselves, and barely bumped into a hiker or cyclist the whole drive through the park. This in a way was more special than seeing it properly, a desert is inhospitable and empty whether it is dry or wet.
Climbing in flipflops
They say that this part of the desert has a ‘two or three year rule’: that after this time the extreme conditions either spit you out or change you forever. Regardless of outcome you will never be the same after spending time in a place like this. I now often think of this in relation to living in London, of course a different experience, however such extremes to pace of life will either change you or make you leave. When I travel, I always aim to completely immerse myself into the area, and mainly visit places I could see myself living in. It’s easy to see where I fit in to a landscape, the footprints left behind, but it’s often only when one is long home that the imprint of a place recently left can be felt. Such was the mark Joshua Tree left on me.
The unbelievable luck of seeing an almost double rainbow in the desert
Our way home wound past Desert Christ Park, a sculpture garden on the hills overlooking Yucca Valley. The modest park was created by Antone Martin, in the height of the late 1940s Cold War tension, and was dedicated on Easter Sunday 1951. Antone’s hope was to inspire world peace in a time of fear and war. All the statues embody this desperation and unease.
Meanwhile, for us night was fast falling, and the grey clouds were slowly turning to indigo. Being the only people moving for miles, we walked trough the white statues alone and in silence.
All above: Desert Christ Park
The view to Yucca Valley
Back at our kitcsh Palm Springs hotel, we were too tired for anything but some low-key pasta and hotel room margaritas. Early the next day, we would be leaving for L.A. Tomorrow we would leave behind this haven of bandits and dreamers, anarchists, bohemians and loners.
Mairead Daly, 2017