We set out early afternoon on a Tuesday. Miles of sun-bleached asphalt spread before us as the 5 became the 210, the 210 became the 10, the 10 became the 62 – meanwhile, the landscape gave way to a whitewashed garden of industrial windmills and the mountains grew increasingly tapered and gnarled by the harsh climate ahead.
Before moving to New York City, these SoCal mountains were little more than tired backdrops to a painfully familiar suburban existence. “I want weather, I want greenery,” I would proclaim as I dreamt of dewy meadows and redwood trees soaring into the sky. But now, nearly eight years after moving away, my heart aches for these scorched giants silently baking under the sun. Bonfires, first kisses, horribly abstract stoner conversations all took place amidst these undulating mountains. For me, adolescence will always smell like cheap beer, sweet desert clay and hints of peppery sagebrush.
Driving deeper into the High Desert was as cathartic as it was nostalgic. The desert is a place of stark contradiction. Brittle shrubs adorn behemoth mountains. Scorching hot summers give way to frigid winters. The vast emptiness inexplicably fills a spiritual void. We stayed in a 1953 homestead in Joshua Tree National Park, a modest desert cabin complete with a south-facing porch and wood burning stove. We bundled up in layers and layers of blankets and cozied up by the crackling fire, watching the ripe red sun dip into the horizon.
After dark, we drove down to Pappy & Harriet’s, a roudy saloon/music venue in Pioneertown. The Solid Ray Woods played an incredible set as the clapboard dance floor was teeming full of happy-drunk locals and out-of-towners swaying back and forth to Ray Woods’ gravel baritone. We shared tables with a couple from Chicago and chatted about local finds and the Amboy ghost town about an hour away.
Upon our return to the cabin, we stoked the wood burning stove once again and fell into a deep liquid sleep. We woke to a quintessential desert sunrise – red like the sunset, comically theatrical yet thoroughly impressive. I stepped out onto the porch wrapped in a thick blanket and watched as the Joshua Trees emerged from the dark, casting long misshapen shadows onto the ground.
We stopped by Downtown Joshua Tree for a quick coffee and headed over to Noah Purifoy’s outdoor desert menagerie. After exploring Noah’s High Desert curios we headed to Amboy, a ghost town deep in the Californian Mojave. We were greeted by a bleached out gas station, a gaudy sign that read “Roy’s Gasoline” and an abandoned elementary school, all within a stone’s throw. It was dead quiet. We could see for miles in every direction. The ominous Amboy crater loomed in the distance. After exploring the area and taking photos ad nauseum, the large swollen sun began to wane. Damn short winter daylight. We begrudgingly headed back to LA, Neil Young playing on the tinny stereo.
The desert has a way of reminding us that we are but tiny blemishes in a mind-numbingly large narrative of time and space. As we made our away down the Twentynine Palms Highway, the overwhelmingly static landscape was only disrupted by tiny ramshackle houses and abandoned homesteads that could not stand the test of time. Here’s a rough photographic documentation of Joshua Tree and the surrounding areas in all its glory. Enjoy.