I have spent my entire life as a wanderer without a map.
Born with a restless hum to tirelessly search for something, I have stood in many strange places in my life, always considering the way they make me feel. I have instantly rejected some of the world’s “greatest” cities as places whose vibrations didn’t jive with mine: Bangkok, Sydney, London, and, yes, New York City. Beyond the completeness LA has made me feel, I was drawn to Austin’s bohemian cool as a child, worshipped Seattle’s dark, damp chaos from afar as a teenager and up close on occasion in my twenties, and had a lengthy, though now defunct, love affair with the hippie rebellion epicenter of San Francisco. I’ve had lust for the twangy flair of Nashville, felt at home in the relatively unknown Italian city at the foot of the Alps, Brescia, found my spirituality in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, shivered in the grim, magical forests of Bergen, Norway, and searched for hobbits, elves and fairies in Queenstown, New Zealand.
But my favorite places are the eccentric, small towns of rural America. Cody, Wyoming…Ojai, CA…Snowqualmie, WA…Jerome, AZ…Marfa, TX, and my absolute favorite, Joshua Tree.
I can’t remember when the desire was first seeded in me to go to Joshua Tree. No, it wasn’t that U2 album that everyone mentions when I share my love for the place….I’ve never been into U2, even though I have sipped whiskey and shared stories with that album’s creator once or twice. Perhaps it was the way the place was lovingly name-dropped by its adorers, usually artistic types in search of inspiration or escape.
The first time I went there I was looking for inspiration and escape.
I will never forget the first time my eyes grazed the landscape of Joshua Tree. There is truly nothing like it. The cruel, brittle desert gave way to twisted trees and lunar landscapes that looked like alien children had been playing with their version of Legos and Lincoln Logs. It was love at first sight.
I’m not sure why some place so devoid of life appeals to me so much. Who am I kidding, I’m the death-obsessed girl. It was like the physical manifestation of my sadness, my Garmonbozia. But the place is like a sponge, it exorcizes these bad things for me, as they pour out in sweat against the impending doom of heat, in thought against the relentless blue horizon, in sight amongst the never-ending variant shades of brown. And then it fills me with a new energy, and I leave invigorated.
Joshua Tree is not for everyone. But for those who have expressed interest, these are my J-Tree rituals and discoveries.
I generally stop and visit the dinosaurs and stretch my legs right before getting off the 10. It’s a fun photo stop.
This is where I normally stay. Famous for being where Gram Parsons sang his last song, in Room #8- which you can stay in- this no frills inn is comfortable and well-located, right as you enter Joshua Tree. The room I have stayed in most is apparently a favorite of Robert Plant. And the innkeeper makes the best Chai in the mornings. The pool is lovely, and sometimes they have art events at night. There is an intricate memorial to Gram Parsons outside room #8. This is a must for any Gram fan, and anyone looking for a non-commercial place to stay with a good vibe.
My last trip to J-Tree had me staying somewhere new: the desert trailer park deemed Hicksville. Hicksville is a bit West of Joshua Tree, down a very bumpy dirt road that I thought might vibrate the HRC-mobile to pieces. It’s all a bit mysterious- they don’t publish an address, you’re not supposed to check in there via Facebook or Instagram…but the themed trailers are pretty cool. We stayed in the Integratrailor- named after the Integratron (more on that in a bit)- which had star sheets, an Alien Communication Device (with an alien hat you put on while attempting to use it), and a projector that set the ceiling of the trailer ablaze with the galaxy at night. Other trailers themes include The Cramps, a sort of I Dream of Jeanie one, and a western one. The place was designed so you never have to leave the premises; there’s an archery and BB gun range, a library, a teepee, a salt water pool, a hot tub on the rooftop, a ping pong table and dart board, and a pretty cool jukebox that plays an online radio station I stream quite often now called Devil’s Night Radio. There are also some robust vending machines to help supplement your supplies; since this is like “glamping” (shared bathrooms and showers, etc.)…you’ll want to pack accordingly. They also have a recording studio there, where Spindrift made their Classic Soundtracks album.
I’ve already mentioned the magic of the park above, but here are the places I generally stop at. Bring lots of water…seriously.
Hemingway: If you go when there aren’t a lot of people around….once you are surrounded by rocks….try a little scream therapy.
Lost Horse Mine: About a 2.5 hour round trip trek to an abandoned mine, with great views of the park.
Wall Street Mill: About a 2 hour trek if you meander around and look at the abandoned cars and equipment strewn about the path. There is also a marker for a murder that happened there that includes the words “bit the dust”.
Cap Rock: A stroll to the other side of the rock from the parking lot will take you to a makeshift memorial for Gram Parsons.
Skull Rock: Beyond the imprint of the skull-like face at the entrance to this collection of boulders, there are a lot of easy climbing spots here.
Though technically not in Joshua Tree, this roadhouse is about a 20 minute trek back towards the freeway and west into the desert. But, it is synonymous with the Joshua Tree experience. At night, you will almost always find some great band playing its small, intimate stage. The food is better than I expected, with a few vegetarian options. If you’re feeling social in J-Tree, this is a must for a nightlife option.
Having had two sound baths at Integratron, I will admit, I’m a believer. This architectural wonder with scientific and metaphysical eyebrow-raising properties and a colorful past is in the small town of Landers, just West of Joshua Tree. If you’re not the spiritual hippie rocker chick that I am, it’s an entertaining, unique sensation that makes for a good story. But if you are…you might notice its physical and psychological restorative powers. Whatever the case, make sure you stand in the middle and speak, and experience what it’s like to hear voices from within.
Across the street from the Integratron is an Orchid Farm with some rather insane looking specimen. There are also Venus Fly Traps. A great place to spend some time while waiting for your sound bath.
Another place with a hidden location (there are a lot in J-Tree), this square of the desert full of art piece constructed of man’s trash is a must-see. From toilet castles to newspaper walls to expired electronics sculptures, the quizzical, massive nature of the place is unlike anything else you’ll see.
And, in general, while you’re driving around, keep your eyes peeled for interesting art on the sides of the road, like this:
There’s a lot more to J-Tree, but since that’s part of the fun of the place, I’ll leave that to you to discover. Just make sure you listen to some Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, and The Flying Burrito Brothers along the way.
As for me, I will continue my pilgrimages out to J-Tree, ’cause I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…