Disappointed by Vulture City and the Petrified Forest I had to wonder what was in Joshua tree. I imagined it to be someone’s back yard where a small child hugged a tree it had named Joshua. Can’t be disappointed if that’s how much you expect from something.. then again, I have been to the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed.
Joshua Tree is actually another park in the middle of a desert. When I saw that I expected another Big Bend horror story but I was so dead on my feet I needed to stay somewhere. I also hoped for showers. There were none. “Did your bathroom have a light in it?” “No.” “Did yours have soap and paper towels?” “Nope, none of that either, but the toilets did flush, that’s a plus…”
I talked to the personnel there who told me one of the main attractions to Joshua Tree, besides the elusive Joshua Trees themselves were the tortoises. Apparently it is home to a large population of endangered tortoises. I asked were we could see them and the woman claimed they were everywhere. The park itself was huge though, and didn’t have any gas stations so before settling in I left to find gas. The only place nearby did not have its prices advertised and only when you started pumping did you realize they were charging $4.20 per gallon. There were kids everywhere infesting the place but they weren’t just any kids, they were the kids you see in apocalyptic sci-fi movies. There was a van full of teenage girls here with their minister on some Christian mission. They’d written in marker all over the van’s windows with a number of suggestive things, “Hot Chickas on Board.” “We kneel for Jesus,” “Honk if you love Jesus!” I am not sure if their minister was just that out of touch with his flock that he had no idea they were treating this outing as a practical joke or if he just didn’t know how to control them. Either way the boys were even worse than the little prosti-tots.
The place was swarming with tween boys as well. A number of them smelled as if they had never known the word shower. One ten year old boy had bleached permed hair and since he probably already had curly hair to begin with… well he ended up with completely bleached kinky hair, standing straight up, decorated sparsely with a bead here and there. All the kids here were rude, obnoxious, and insinuating. A whole swarm of baby douches. I don’t really approve of that wording but what else could I call them? These kids reminded me of all those stereotyped spoofs of New Jersey.
Have you ever met someone who has had such a traumatic and fucked up childhood that you know they have no chance in hell of functioning normally as an adult in society? I think this godforsaken corner of the desert is where these runaways ended up with their seven children, who all devolved through successive generations until these little treasures came into the world… and ministers, naively, try to save them.
The store itself wasn’t much better than the kids who infested it. There was a shelf labeled “souvenirs” which only contained obscene bric-a-bracs, an Indian woman holding two pots in front of her boobs, a little cactus growing out of each, and a cowboy and Indian man each holding their britches open, a cactus jutting out from them. “What the fuck is wrong with this place?” Bizarrely there was no firewood on offer and the only water being sold was as a nearly solidly frozen two liter bottle of “frozen water,” what us sane people would call ice. I got out of there as soon as I could.
I returned to Joshua Tree so tired, but determined to at least see a tortoise to make it worthwhile. I stopped at the visitor center to pay and get everything settled. I walked back to the car where I found a couple Brits discussing the Jeep.
“Look at that license plate, it says New Hampshire. I’ve been there. Live free or die! I love that!”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? What’s so free about it?”
“I don’t know, I have a T-shirt that reads that.” I was standing off to the side waiting to get into my car, without saying a word, silently laughing to myself that live free or die actually refers to the revolutionary war… live free of the British crown and their taxes or die. I could have said something but I was still a bit shell shocked from the last place we were at and didn’t feel like talking. Besides this guy’s accent was rough! I don’t know which town he originated from but I can tell you it was working class. I waited patiently for them to move out of my way to get back into my car.
I set up the tent in another gusty wind, fighting all the way, trying to get the stakes to actually stay in the loose sand. It was a challenge but when I finally managed the sucker was standing as strong as a tent can stand without use of cement.
I drove around part of the park looking for tortoises. I saw a lot of vaguely tortoise shaped rocks and nothing else. I drove through the cactus garden and checked out the Joshua Trees themselves, which were basically yucca trees with lots of different branches instead of a trunk and some leaves. Eventually I ended up at the springs. I’d hoped to see the oasis but it was a seven mile walk. There was no way I would have survived that, not today! I walked up to the springs and there was some HUGE palm trees, and tangles of plants. I could not keep my eyes open to enjoy its beauty until I heard an impossibly loud HISSSSSSSSSSS and saw someone jump three feet in the air. Rattlesnakes… They were here, thick as my fist and almost as long as I am tall.
I couldn’t keep my eyes open on the way back to the tent. It was 4PM and time for bed. I was toast. I slept like a baby on morphine. I got up to eat dinner a few hours later and went back to bed, not waking up until my alarm went off unexpectedly at 7am. I got up and did some cleaning and took a little walk. On my walk I saw a Jack rabbit, a weird bug, some odd birds, lots and lots of cactuses, evidence of a lapdog, but no tortoises. I took some photos and enjoyed myself, making sure not to wander off the path that I found that seemed to lead straight into the desert for no apparent reason. It led back to the campground. I returned after 30-45 minutes out there. The day before I was told (after setting up the tent) that this loop of the campground was going to be closed for the season today and I had to be out of there by 10, maybe 11 o’clock.
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