Peace And Flowers In An Arid Landscape
I recently took a detour on the way home from Las Vegas to visit Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert.
The nearby town, Twenty Nine Palms, is truly an arid place. None of the houses I saw had a scrap of greenery in their gardens, besides a couple of brave trees. It looked as though people actually swept their gardens and anything that tried to grow was ruthlessly dealt with! The town exists primarily because of a military base near by and to service the park, and provides a home for a few ardent rock climbers who want proximity to the park.
Driving into town after a very parched drive from Vegas did not make me hopeful about Joshua Tree National Park, I have to admit. Windmills were about the only things dotted around the stony hillsides on the way in.
We headed into the park just after lunchtime, right into the brightest time of day. We drove up the road and then started to see huge sandstone outcrops to the right of us, gorgeous against the deep blue sky. Lots of little, incredibly unfriendly looking cacti, strangely nicknamed Teddy Bear chollas, started appearing along with a few Joshua trees here and there and some Paper Bag bushes, covered in little pale pink balloon flowers.
As we ventured further in, the outcrops became more numerous and so did the Joshua trees. Joshua trees are succulents, part of the yucca family. There are two kinds in this part of the park, The Joshua tree and the Mojave Yucca (which always has threads on its spines). The Joshua tree only flowers after some years, then that branch stops growing and the tree pushes out another branch, hence the twisty stance it ends up with. It was named after the Biblical figure, Joshua, because its outstretched arms reminded the early Mormon settlers of him. The Spanish traders called them Palms, hence the town’s name, Twenty Nine Palms. The early Native American residents of the area used to make baskets and hats out of the leaves.
A little further in, we decided to stop and walk into the desert to find the treasures hidden there and within minutes we were in the middle of windswept outcrops of rocks and boulders, and golden gravel.
Skull Rock watched us with empty sockets. Ravens circled above us, looking out for lizards and ground squirrels. The ground was full of holes, shelter for them and the many snakes you get out there. Luckily I didn’t see any rattlesnakes or I would have had a heart attack but a little lizard decided that my husband’s cap was as good a view-point as any.
In the shadow of the rocks I saw a lot of plant life taking cover from the heat, including plenty of grasses and small leafed shrubs, as well as lots of little spring-flowering annuals.
Chia flowers grow there and their seeds have been used as food for hundreds of years. The seeds are now regarded as a ‘super food’. I also saw dark blue Lupines and white and red Pincushions and yellow Desert Sunflowers and a few others that I couldn’t identify.
The desert cacti are starting to come into bloom now and, besides Chollas, we saw magenta flowered Beavertails, and the Hedgehog cactus with its equally bright flowers, growing out of a crack in the rock.
The place was starting to feel quite populated! All the plants were growing in gravel, which gave the scene a surprisingly manicured look, one huge desert garden. I was struck by how much there was to see once we left the car. It’s always better to get out there.
As the sun started to go down we drank our water on top of a rock and got a sense of the peaceful aura of the place, watched over by the warm coloured rocks as the shadows stretched across the ground. I can see why it’s been used as a backdrop for spiritual journeys over the years and why people would brave living in such a harsh landscape. Everything is pared down to the bare essentials and life seems simpler under the brilliant stars.
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