3 Best (and free!) Hiking Trails Around Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is quickly becoming one of America’s favorite national parks, with record annual visitors topping one million in recent years. With over 1200 sq ft of protected park, it would take a while to explore every inch of the park. Yet, the area surrounding the park is open and vast, with the town of Joshua Tree being unincorporated, the locals know there are places without an entrance fee worth discovering. I have three hikes around town that I absolutely adore and they are all outside of the national park, they all look different, and they are all beautiful places to see after a good rain.

Coyote Hole – One of my favorite places of all time, Coyote Hole is an unexpected hike. It begins on Easterly Dr in Joshua Tree. There’s a house just up the hill on the right and gates blocking the dirt path off from cars. The area is mostly soft sand and surrounded by high hills and cliffs. This is often called a wash and is an irrigation route during extreme rains. About 30 feet above the ground on some rocks are Serrano pictographs, visible with the naked eye. Zoom in with a camera and get an even better view. There are signs posted asking “Who walked this way?” and explains the natural history and preservation of the area. At the end of the hike, about a half mile from the start, is where the water falls down. It’s beautiful, minus the assholes who feel the need to spray paint. Thankfully, the graffiti is painted over quickly. Climb up the rocks and see the water if it has rained recently and enjoy the natural habitat and flowers on the hike back. In fact, if you managed to get there directly after a good rain, you’ll be able to see a natural waterfall in the desert.

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Serrano pictographs located at Coyote Hole

Big Morongo Preserve – Definitely one of the most beautiful places in the Morongo Basin, the Big Morongo Preserve is an ecological anomaly. Upon entering, there are places to sign in, a map of where the visitors have been from, and informational flyers on the animals and plants you might see along the way. It is green. There are trees, plants, streams, ponds, and another flat wash area with built in hiking paths and seating areas, perfect for photos. The light at sunset is breathtaking. There’s a large bird population and is a must-see for avid bird watchers. It’s also an amazing place for photography.

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Tarantula Hawk (wasp) photographed just off the trail at the Morongo Preserve.

Rattlesnake Canyon – Regardless of the foreboding name, this is one of the absolute best hikes in Joshua Tree and you can do it for free. It requires some minimal rock scrambling, but it is the quickest way to get the best view of the Wonderland of Rocks. There are waterfalls, sometimes if there is enough rainwater, the beginning of the trail turns into a small creek. The hike features small running waterfalls and pools throughout and the top ends in a gorgeous maze of rocks and puddles, some of the rocks perfect for sunbathing. The top also sports a gorgeous view overlooking the desert.

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Looking down the rocks at Rattlesnake Canyon a few days after a rain.

The desert isn’t as brown and boring as most assume and people are beginning to come around. As a local, it’s fun to find great places and share them with people who will seek them out and truly appreciate them. This desert is a magical place and these three spots just happen to hold a special place in my heart because I have seen them all that their best—full of water after a great rain. They only add to the mythical feeling and lure of the desert, a place I never pictured myself seeing and now a place I will never forget.

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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.

5 Things to do While in Joshua Tree

When visiting Joshua Tree National Park, it can be easy to feel as though that is all the place has to offer. It is out in the middle of nowhere, after all. Nestled between Palm Springs and the back road to Las Vegas, the small desert space is packed with weird entertainment. Here are just a few things you can do all year long.

Get a soundbath – As weird as it sounds, it’s definitely something everyone should experience when visiting. A few miles from Joshua Tree lies Landers, a town that is really just a bunch of houses spaced out and a few stores and a pizza place in case they needed just a few things that didn’t warrant a drive out to Yucca Valley. Also in Landers is the Integretron. With an incredibly interesting history, the building is pretty and the water is supposedly healing thanks to the magnetic field under the area. It’s worth the drive to see the place and its history and you might even be surprised at how good you feel after leaving.

Eat at the Inn – Generally regarded as the best food in the area by the locals, the 29 Palms Inn is on the way to the park at the entrance in 29 Palms. Built on the Oasis of Mara, the Inn features beautiful bungalows available for rent, a fabulous Faultline garden full of food they use in the restaurant, and they have locals playing music every weekend and local art adorning the walls. Though the space is small, there is extra seating outside by the pool. The salad dressings at the restaurant are homemade. Much of the food is grown on-site and they take pride in not only their ingredients, but the presentation as well. Their specialty drinks are delicious and filled with fruit and liquor. The seasonal menu will assure you experience the best the desert has to offer.

See a show at Pappy and Harriet’s – Recently voted as one of the best concert venues in the L.A. area by L.A. Weekly, Pappy and Harriet’s is a gem. It began as a soundstage for old Hollywood westerns, many starring John Wayne. It’s now a honky tonk restaurant with an adjoining hotel. They have gotten big name indie bands and acts in past couple of years and keep upping their game. Dave Catching of The Eagles of Death Metal has a stake in the local recording studio you may have heard of, Rancho De La Luna, and he frequents the open mic night at Pappy’s. They’ve had Modest Mouse, The Pistol Annies, Jenny Lewis, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Melvins just to name a few. Try to coordinate your trip to coincide with a concert and enjoy the intimacy of the venue.

Visit old town Yucca Valley – Yucca Valley is the adjacent town to the west of Joshua Tree. This is where all the corporations are; the Wal-Mart, the grocery stores, the chain clothing stores. There’s also old town, which houses the weird, locally owned shops. There’s a comic book store, hipster clothing stores, an antique shop which was spotlighted by Martha Stewart, and gloriously kitschy art and interior decor stores. There’s even an organic coffee shop and cafe if you get hungry while shopping.

Take a drive to Giant Rock – Another place in the desert with an incredibly rich history, Giant Rock is a great place to explore. It began as a house for a Nazi spy (I’m not kidding) who lived off of rainwater he collected thanks to a canal he found in the rock and eventually evolved into a meeting spot for huge UFO conventions. It’s located just a bit further than the Integretron and is next to an old airstrip that was used during WWII. The rock is spray painted now, thanks to local teens who make it out there to off road and party. It is a contrast of history and present day, color and desert beige.

There are endless adventures to experience in the desert. These are really only a few to check off the list, as told from a local who began as a visitor. The pioneering history is rich and even in the national park, you will find treasures and historical areas that will even interest the most bored of children.

The Grip of Addiction

This is the first time I’ve had the moxie to put into words all of the emotions that come with having a brother who battles a crippling meth addiction. He has been addicted most of my life and looking back on my younger years, it’s difficult to determine what was him and what was Crystal. This is confusing and feels akin to betrayal. I remember when I was about 8 or 9, I would stay the night with him and his wife and we would stay up all night playing video games. I could never make it to 6 am, but he always could. I chalked it up to him being older. Looking back now, I know he was simply spun out.

So much has happened in our mutual pasts that I have given up speaking to him. I simply cannot bring myself to attempt to converse with him because I know it’s not really him, but Crystal that I’m speaking to. I know many people would condemn my actions, tell me that what he really needs is people that love him to support him. I feel as though I can no longer lend any support. I’ve seen the toll his addiction has taken on my mother, both emotionally and financially, and I cannot feel sympathy for him. He has two children he does not see or contribute to and after becoming a mother myself, I lost any shred of respect I had for him. He sold every memory from my deceased father’s house for drugs, leaving the rest of us with nothing.

These are things I cannot get passed. I just can’t bring myself to feel anything but anger toward him and guilt. I feel guilty because my mother tells me, “I would really like for you to forgive him because I’m gone, the three of you will only have each other.” My eldest brother might speak to him sparingly when he visits our hometown, but he is usually as disgusted and upset as I am. So, I am struggling with the idea of attempting to give him another chance, for my mother’s sake. I feel like that reasoning isn’t strong enough, I should want to do it for my own reasons. The only reason I could imagine rekindling any type of speaking relationship would be due to the fact it is unhealthy for me to harbor such negative emotions. I just have no idea how I could forgive someone who still continues to hurt my mother so badly. She literally takes care of him from 1200 miles away and he still cannot stay clean. Not after jail, not after rehab, and not even after landing a job and having a place to stay set up for him. I can say, “He is mentally ill, that is why he is able to continue living off our mother when he is almost 37″ But I honestly feel like that is giving him an excuse. I understand addiction is a mental disorder, however, he cannot stay away from legal trouble. Be it a speeding ticket, a weapons charge, or a parking ticket, he will always find a way to stay in trouble.

He has been addicted for over 20 years and he shows it in his mentality. I’ve heard that when people become addicted or go to jail, they stay where they are mentally. Since he became addicted as a teenager, he is still very much a young kid in his mind. He is hardly serious. He is constantly joking. When he was younger, he could have our entire family rolling on the floor in laughter, his impressions were spot on and hilarious. Now, his lack of genuine emotion is sad. All of the cousins in the family have steady jobs or children, we bond over the struggles of parenting and watching our kids together. Then there is my brother, who seems to only ever be joking or complaining, tossing around the sympathy card, acting as if the world owes him something.

I was 12 when our parents divorced, he was 22 and he has never gotten over it. He was never able to understand why my mother left when she was unhappy and blamed her for it all. Our father passed away when I was 17, he was 27; we were in the room when he took his last breath. While I can look back on that moment with a notion of clarity (my grandfather was telling a fishing story to comfort us and that seems so symbolic of our family to me now), he seemed to only let reality slip away a little more after that. He yelled at me once for singing a My Chemical Romance song that mentioned someone dying of cancer. As if we didn’t have the same father.

The last 20 years have been a roller coaster of emotions, I have gone from feeling so sorry for him to wanting to kill him to now simply wishing he could act close to his age and stop stressing out our mother. His selfishness is astonishing, yet I suppose that is not uncommon among drug addicts. It is a difficult decision I have made to no longer speak to my brother. I hear my mother’s plea for forgiveness echoing in my head and I feel like one day I will abide. That day may not come soon, but in the end, I suppose forgiveness is the correct path. What’s that saying? Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. 

The First Pregnancy Fallacy

Women learn how astonishingly strong they can be during pregnancy and childbirth. You put up with things you never in a million years saw yourself having to deal with on an everyday basis (Oh, look, my breasts are leaking again!). The first pregnancy is (generally speaking) a beautiful breeze. You feel like a gorgeous, round Earth goddess, forging a new life unto this planet through your own body. Everything is new and different; even morning sickness is a welcomed change. You read all the books, study your body, track the growth of the baby with those ridiculous food metaphors (Is that because pregnant women are notoriously hungry?), even post pictures of what you assume is a bump on social media (FYI: if you aren’t having a problem fitting into your shirts, that’s gas, not a baby bump). Ah, pregnancy…

Then, your first child becomes a toddler and you foolishly think to yourself, “We should do this again!” I say foolishly because more than likely, pregnancy is not going to be the fond memories you have of lying in bed feeling little feet stick out of your abdomen. No, the second time you get pregnant, all of those memories are proven wrong in the worst possible way. It’s like when you do something you’re terrified of; after it’s done and the memory has faded a little, you tend to think it wasn’t that bad. Then, when you try it again, you wonder what the hell you were thinking to even do this in the first place.

For instance, my first pregnancy with my son was (from what I can remember) an absolute breeze. I think I only got sick maybe three times during the first trimester. Sure, I was nauseous almost constantly, but as for honest-to-goodness morning sickness, I was fortunate enough to evade it for the most part. This time around? I threw up pretty much constantly for 20 weeks straight. They tell you in the books it should dissipate by about fifteen weeks, just in time to enjoy feeling the kicks (the people who write those books are often frustratingly full of shit). Yet, there I was hovering over my porcelain god up to nine times a day. I went on a camping trip for the fourth of July and ended up puking seven times before noon (five of those times were in the car on the way home).

I was halfway in and already couldn’t wait for it to be over. As I sit here, now, I haven’t had my daughter yet. I am almost 39 weeks, ravaged by heartburn (strangely nonexistent last time) and nerve pains. I was walking three to four miles a week last pregnancy and this time I can barely make it a mile walking with my toddler and my pit bull without hurting my back and walking crooked for the next five days. I have pulled an abdomen muscle (which thankfully healed), had groin pains so bad rolling over in bed at night was making my eyes water, and I am barely able to sleep at night due to being squished between a grown man and a tiny toddler terror. True love is lying in a toddler bed at nine months pregnant until the little one falls asleep and attempting to get up quietly.

The second pregnancy is focused on all that you can no longer eat/drink/do because you already know your baby is the size of a lime and you can’t bring yourself to give a shit because your toddler didn’t nap and you can’t unwind with a glass of zinfandel. I have taken more baths in the last nine months than I have in the past three years. So ladies, if this is your second (or third or fourth) pregnancy, I crookedly stand with you in complacent solidarity. If this is your first, however, I wish you well. You are probably beaming right now, holding your ever expanding abdomen, thinking about the beauty of what’s happening inside you, vowing to cherish every moment of every pregnancy. I was like you, once. “My pregnancy with Connor was such a beautiful experience, I don’t know how anyone can hate being pregnant!” I ate, then quickly regurgitated those words.