Joshua Tree Part 2

I woke up around nine. Aidan was next to me. Kyle, Ethan, and Matt had been up for a few hours already and had relighted the fire. I peeked my head out of the tent. Smoke hit me in the eyes and the light was blinding. The sun reflected off the white of the desert making everywhere I looked hurt. We had big plans today. It was our only day there. We were heading back that night. First, we had some snacks at the camp, then we packed up and made our way back to the van.

We drove into the town outside the park. It’s nothing special: one street with a bunch of over exaggerated western buildings that have huge signs in order to trap tourists. We almost went to a breakfast place where we would have been overcharged. Thankfully, we kept going. Down the road was a Taco Bell, a Panda Express, and a Walmart. I was eating my tacos in Panda Express and could not stop singing Headlines by Drake. Every time I sung the hook, Ethan and Matt would raise what they called their “trigger level” by five percent. Loaded up on junk, we were ready to head back into the park.

We entered in at the West Entrance Station. Unlike last night, someone was at the booth and we had to pay twenty-five dollars to enter. Most of the park runs south-west. The plan was to drive about half the length of the park and work our way backwards. We drove about thirty miles. Brent tried to take a GoPro video of the drive, but the front of the car was in every shot, ruining his video. Our first destination was the Cholla Cactus Garden, the first attraction when crossing from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert. It was a short loop through a garden of jumping cholla (choy-ya). I was mad because our map said that there would be a guide brochure at the trailhead, but the box was empty. Instead I had my tree book and was able to look up the cacti. The book quoted some naturalist, saying, “The cacti don’t jump, you do.” We all had a good laugh pretending to sit on the cacti and jumping up in pain.

Next, we drove back about fifteen miles to an off-map location called Skull-Rock. The rock it’s named after doesn’t look much like a skull. The trail was sick though. Rocks slanted out of the ground like hands reaching out. We pretended that we were acrobatic and jumped from rock to rock.

We went off trail, straight south. Eventually the rocks opened up and the plain stretched before us, white and green. Ahead, the rocks looked like ramps, slanting, up to a platform. We thought we could run straight up them. When we got closer, the ramps were more steep, less smooth, and much taller than we thought they were. Instead, we had to climb. At the top the valley seemed to stretch on forever. It was easy to believe that we were looking at the end of the known world. There was no evidence of people. Of course we were the first ones here. In actuality, just out of sight was the California Riding and Hiking Trail. It was obvious looking at a map, however, in real life the proportions always seem wrong. From our point of view, we were kings. At the top was a little bowl cut in the rock. Aidan took his shirt off and sat down in it. “Take a picture and Photoshop water around me.” We felt like kings but we looked like a bunch of fricks.

We headed back to the van. The next stop was the Hidden Valley loop, an old cattle rustlers’s hideout. It was one of the more touristy attractions. Compared to the wilderness feel of Skull Rock, Hidden Valley felt like Disneyland. All along the trail were smoothed out rock steps and every few feet there was an information signpost. Halfway through, us rugged men decided to step off-trail. We climbed up the massive boulders surrounding the hike. From the top we could see thousands of joshua trees. The sun was starting to set and the light was a warm yellow. The prehistoric valley was quiet. Aidan kept expecting to see a dinosaur stomping through the joshua tree speckled plaine. We spent a good hour up there. All of us were debating whether we should stay for the sunset or not. There was a lookout only twenty minutes from where we were. We decided to at least go there and then decide if we wanted to stay or not.

Keys View is on the South-East part of the park, 5,185 feet up, overlooking the Coachella Valley. We got there about an hour till sunset. As soon as we had a look around we knew we were staying to see the sun set. At the top you could see for miles, down to the Salton Sea. It was hazy, but on a clear day, we were told, you can see the San Andreas Fault, and Palm Springs hugging the San Gabriels. Kyle, Brent, Matt, and Ethan took a nap while we were waiting. Aidan and I sat, our backs against the stone wall, facing the valley, reading a book. I was reading Book IX of Paradise Lost; Aidan was reading War of the Worlds. It got colder every minute. By the time the sun was almost set, I was shivering too much to care. Matt took a few last pictures and we headed back to Santa Clarita, tired, ready for some Sonic Drive-In.



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Keith Brooks

The grapes are sometimes merciful. California Travel, Essays, Short Fiction, and Reviews.