Desert Days in California: Part One - Pioneertown & Joshua Tree

posted on: Thursday, 23 July 2015

For years I wondered why all my friends in California were obsessed with trips to the desert. Of course there are various reasons, depending on the person you are talking to, to be obsessed with the exotic landscape available to all. However, my "people" usually go to the desert for one of two reasons. They are either headed to Palm Springs with friends or they are headed to the rocks or trees of Joshua Tree for a photoshoot. There are also the few I know that go to the desert to reconnect with themselves. These people I admire. They find solace in the quiet and desolate terrain. It is, if possible, the complete opposite to anything most of us know in our day to day lives. It is a place that is filled with surreal plant life, dangerous animal life and unexpected weather patterns. It is, for me, the counter to London living. I loved every blooming minute of it. 

Now, my experience in the desert will come in several parts, as I felt I could shoot endless pictures and write long prose of the magic one will discover in this area of the world. This first part is a one part jovial and two parts cathartic. That first part has everything to do with a tiny place called Pioneertown in the Yucca Valley

Pioneertown has been around since the 1940s, and has historically been used as a film set, and doubled as homes for actors filming on location. It is eery to say the least. When we arrived there were a few tourists snapping selfies down the main street. When they cleared, we had the place to ourselves. We visited the jail, the hotel, the saddle shop and the general mercantile. No one seemed home (as apparently people do live here - there's a population of 350 in the area) and we were left to watch as the wind kicked sand up around our feet. It felt as if John Wayne would come strolling into town on his tall horse at any moment. Alas, all that came into view was an old beat up Honda Minivan. Fifteen minutes later we had seen it all and reloaded back into our car to leave Pioneertown for another day - perhaps a day when we had attire that fit the feel of the place. Our bright sundresses seemed so far from appropriate it was ridiculous. 

Next up, we headed to Joshua Tree National Park. Many of you will be most familiar with this location because of the U2 album named for the Joshua Tree. In reality, the Joshua Tree featured on the album cover is a tree 200 miles away from the park itself. But you get the idea. It's a popular place for many reasons - but globally known because of the U2 reference. The Joshua Trees, in case you are wondering, get their name from the Old Testament prophet Joshua. It's believed, according to Mormon legend, that the tree reminded followers of Joshua waving his hands in prayer to the sky. And there you have it- the name stuck - and today we have hundreds of thousands of Joshua Trees scattered throughout the park and beyond, all begging for attention from the masses. They are an odd looking tree, that is for sure, but there is something incredibly magical and attention grabbing about the way each one is completely unique in its stance in the sand. As there are over 700,000 acres of national park here, there are plenty of Joshua Trees to discover and mark as favorites. 

In reality, there is so much to see in Joshua Tree that you can easily get lost in the journey - mentally speaking. Upon exiting your car in the summer you are immediately struck by the incredible heat first and foremost. The next emotion you will discover is one that can strike fear in the hearts of many - silence. It is so quiet here, it's unsettling. It's just you and your thoughts, people. Now you can understand why so many people make a sort of "pilgrimage" to the park. It is a place to discover not only wildlife, but also yourself. Yes, I just went there.

Here's a look at some pics from the day. I'll be back to visit in November, so watch this space as I feel there's a lot more ground to cover, speaking both literally and figuratively. 


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