Don’t Be Afraid to Vacation in The Desert

When thinking of a family vacation, the word ‘desert’ probably doesn’t come in on the list of Top Five Places. It’s time to rethink that outdated list and discover the beauty of the southern California high desert. From big, clean skies to awesome murals and landscapes, the desert has something for absolutely everyone.

The Seasons Rock – The best thing about the high desert is the temperature in every season that is not the summer. Spring is obviously the most vibrant. After a nice, wet winter, the desert floor is often coated in a yellow blanket of wildflowers. The fall air in the high desert is crisp and cool, a distinctive feeling that comes around right before the temperatures begin to drop. High desert winters, unlike the lower Colorado desert, get cold enough for snowfall, which usually happens once or twice over the season. It’s a marvelous sight, the Joshua trees all covered in white snow. Such a beautiful contrast. The summers are usually hot, but not unbelievable like Palm Springs. Tent camping is totally possible and comfortable virtually year-round.

Joshua Trees – One of my favorite things about the high desert are the Joshua trees. They are fickle and need a particular amount of dryness, rain, and elevation to prosper. They are only found in the Mojave Desert, making them a bucket list must see. They look weird, almost human like, which is how they got their name. They resembled Joshua from Biblical times reaching up toward Heaven. However, once you realize they only grow in a certain area, you will begin to realize Hollywood uses that desert for everything. In Kill Bill, the church they go to is supposedly in Texas, but there are Joshua trees surrounding it. Sorry, guys.

Music and Art – Unless you lived under a rock in 2014, you probably heard about the show Dave Grohl made which features recording studios from across the country. It was called Sonic Highways and they recorded a majority of the Los Angeles episode in Joshua Tree at a small house/studio called Rancho De La Luna. Joshua Tree has an incredibly developed, rich artistic community. There are numerous art shops in unincorporated Joshua Tree, as well as neighboring Yucca Valley. The local honky tonk is exploding in the LA music scene, as well as the local music scene, which now sports an online radio station. There are murals galore in every city in the Morongo Basin. There are local art tours, world renowned mural artists, writers, and soon there will even be an International Film Festival. There is always something going on, so when you’re in town, don’t forget to take a look on a “what’s happening” cork board, of which there are quite of in Joshua Tree alone.

Smog-Free Skies – An extreme rarity in Southern California, the Morongo Basin sky lacks smog, revealing itself in all its glory. The Milky Way drapes across, behind Joshua trees and cactus, the moon peeking through Yucca leaves.  During the day, your family can enjoy hiking in clean air at an elevation that is not unkind to young lungs. While other attractions across Southern California are in the middle of traffic-heavy cities, Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas maintain cerulean blue skies filled with fresh, minimally polluted air.

Unplugging is Good for Your Soul – Unplugging from the digital world and plugging into the real world via a trip to Joshua Tree is the perfect way to bring everyone closer together. From pictographs left behind by the Serrano Indians to rock climbers highlining between rock formations, the sights around you will keep your face from being buried in your phone. Like many places that have been relatively untouched, the desert possesses a certain magic and it’s palpable from the minute you arrive. The sights and sounds, even the glorious smell of creosote after a good rain all mix together and give the air an almost electric feel.

There really is nothing like the desert, especially a place like Joshua Tree National Park. Don’t be afraid to venture out and see why this is one of America’s most beloved national parks and why people from all over the world come to stay. Show your soul a place more inhabited by wildlife and plants than by people.

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Splash of Pop

In our digital age, it’s difficult to unplug. We forget to turn off the TV, we stay inside during sweltering summer days, opting for a movie marathon over a game of cards. We worship people who are famous for no reason. No real talent, aside from looking good (which is usually someone else’s job, too).

Most intellectual people, or people who try really hard to appear intelligent, will scoff at the idea of reality television. Could you imagine Einstein watching the Kardashians? Nah, I peg him as more of a Flipping Out guy.

I mean, really, just because you’re smart, does that mean you must only like Downtown Abbey? I know reality television is usually trash, but then, am I ridiculous for following rap beefs? What about UFC fighter Twitter battles? Why is pop culture suddenly so looked down upon?

Maybe it’s because my generation is altering the way we view things; after all, it’s difficult to recreate a decade like the nineties. So we turn our noses up at things we hate. Saturday Night Live will always be funny for us and we use our internet leverage and bring back our favorite snacks and drinks (that we probably try again and immediately regret). I mean, we rebooted Boy Meets World and Will Smith is somehow still acting in movies. I guess our love for the Fresh Prince, like the Scrunchies around our wrists, will never disappear.

I don’t consider myself horribly stupid; I know the difference between ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re’ at the very least (also ‘allowed’ and ‘aloud’). I vote, I research, I don’t share those things you see on Facebook about Venus being as big as the moon on a certain date, I know The Onion is satire. I also really like reality television and the UFC.

Shows that incorporate reality television and sports together ultimately end up being my favorite. The Challenge is one of my favorite television shows of all time. It has everything: a great storyline, action, drama, physical stunts, comedy, hook-ups, and break-ups. One of the most endearing parts of the show was the years-long love story between CT and Diem, which ended tragically last year when Diem passed away from cancer immediately following her stint filming her last season. The Ultimate Fighter, the reality show the UFC uses to recruit new talent, is always changing and getting better. They had a season full of women and it was glorious. They had a season in which Ronda Rousey coached against Miesha Tate and their hatred for each other was palpable. That’s great television.

So why do we hate on reality television? I suppose most of it is very vapid and annoying. It’s sometimes difficult for me to watch The Real Housewives shows because of their incessant bickering. Yet, the characters they choose are perfect always rope you in; interesting, neurotic, obsessive, funny, sarcastic. Give me a drunken Sonja Morgan in Tahiti over a cliche-filled cop in sunglasses any day.

Pop culture … the music, television, viral stories and videos … these are the things that help shape our society. Not going on Facebook doesn’t make you anymore of a human. Perhaps you appreciate things more, but as with everything: balance is key. We need nature (read my post from last year), we need to be outside, we need places untouched. But society is just as natural. It’s the interaction between humans, what we’re inventing and why we’re inventing it. A city is just as natural as an ant hill. So embrace society, like what you like. That doesn’t make you any less intelligent. Just find your balance.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl

Tangible Music

One of my favorite memories as a young kid was when my dad took me to Target on Tuesdays. You see, my father and I had a similar intense love of music and CDs were released on Tuesdays. I would scurry to the entertainment section and scour the racks for new music or maybe something I had recently discovered. I would peel open the cellophane in the car – obviously this job couldn’t wait until we got home – and immediately comb through the inner sleeve. I would read who the band thanked, who wrote the songs, or if they used excerpts from other songs.

This is why, no matter how much society tries, I will resist purchasing digital music as long as I possibly can. They still make CDs in 2015, so I purchase them instead. This weekend my boyfriend surprised me by buying me a new CD on Amazon. He could have gotten the digital version. It might have been cheaper and I would be able to listen to it instantly. In fact, I could probably do this on YouTube, anyway. But no, he bought me the CD because he knows what music means to me, especially tangible music.

I grew up without instant access to all the answers of questions I had regarding the music. My father, however, always paid for me to have a subscription to Spin magazine, which has always been slightly ahead of the curve. I bought Alternative Press magazine and studied the inside sleeves of my CDs like they were textbooks. Now, they buy digital copies of music tracks and can read through thousands of websites every time they Google a question regarding an artist.

They will never experience the sheer joy of peeling back that cellophane. They don’t know how frustrating the top strip is to remove from a CD case. It’s insane for my generation to be the last to discover music based on what records or CDs our older siblings had and the first to download MP3 tracks from our beloved Napster. CDs are recorded at a different volume, they sound better. Just like records sound better than CDs (everything sounds better than cassettes and 8 tracks). CDs have cover art and photography, they are a product of creativity and art all around.

Now everything is automatic. No waiting for the CDs to ship, no driving to the store to purchase them, and no potential for problems due to scratching. Take your phone into your car and there you go – your entire music library. No huge CD books, no sunvisor sleeves. Just the thing you carry around in your pocket or purse all day long. I guess I’m just getting older and I know how my parents felt when they longed for those coveted “good ol’ days.” They bitched about not being able to understand my screaming jibberish music and I just can’t understand how there are NO popular songs with actual instruments. Yeah, Jenny Lewis and Circa Survive were big names at Coachella but DRAKE headlined. DRAKE.

Well, as long as they continue to pump out CDs, I will continue to purchase them. Perhaps a little less frequently than before, but it’s difficult for me to find artists I like from this decade. But I will always have a love for tangible music. Do they still have CD clubs? I’d definitely be in on that.

Wonderland

When most people imagine Southern California, they envision beaches freckled with blond haired, chestnut skinned twenty-somethings and busy highways flowing into the smog filled horizon. All I can imagine are Joshua trees and the smell of wet creosote. Living in the Mojave High Desert alters your experience of what it means to live in Southern California and your classification of a beautiful landscape. I can appreciate brown hills, the small bursts of green from the tops of the Joshua trees, the tremendous amount of boulders that overtake most of the landscape, and I have even come to appreciate the bristling beauty of the cholla.

The desert is one place where nothing is as it seems. The drab cactus that litters the landscape will surprise springtime visitors with beautiful pink and yellow flowers, resembling Christmas lights strewn about the tan sand. It’s truly a spectacular sight when the desert comes to life after a long winter. Spring is also when we receive our heaviest influx of tourists, when the weather is no longer freezing and it hasn’t yet reached the typical 100 degrees of summer, so staying in a tent is actually a pleasant experience.  Some of them rent time shares or vacation homes if they plan on staying a little longer. Yet, I feel like these people never get to the heart of my beloved Joshua Tree. They will visit the markets and cafes, eat at the few restaurants we have, but living in a town as small as Joshua Tree you get to know everyone on a first name basis.

We have no corporations in our town, save for the two gas stations on the highway. We have hiking/rock climbing stores, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, real estate companies, a health food store, a yoga studio, a general store… all of which are owned by locals. It is wonderful thing to see the community flourish without the intrusion of giant corporate monsters sucking the profit from the town. We are having a hell of a time keeping it this way. The town and its wonderful residents are attempting to prevent the imposition of a Dollar General (of which there are 2 within 15 miles in either direction of Joshua Tree; one in 29 Palms and one in Yucca Valley) by fighting a rough court battle against the county.

Places like Joshua Tree need to exist. Places where nature and art are the driving force are necessary, especially in a place like Southern California whose natural beauty is so often undermined by capitalism and human interruption. Humans need places where nature reigns so we can remember what life is really all about. This is why I am so thankful that after years of jumping around from city to city, I have finally developed roots in Joshua Tree. I am in the midst of finding myself in this small town and I know there isn’t a better place to begin this journey. My son was born here and my daughter will soon be born in the same hospital. I found a deep rooted love and began a family, the first stop on this road to Who I Am, and I was fortunate enough to do so in the midst of the Joshua trees and creosote.