Thoughts on the Desert | A Walk in Joshua Tree National Park

Thoughts on the Desert | A Walk in Joshua Tree National ParkA single bird chirped, its sound carried on the wind that whipped across the rugged desert landscape. Occasionally, I could hear a low hum of airplanes in the distance or the laughter from my friends further up the trail, but, for the most part, the only sound was the steady crunch of my hiking boots grinding against the hard-packed sand as I made my way up the path to the abandoned mine.

The desert is a hostile place, and Joshua Tree National Park is no exception. A fire had torn through the park only 10 months earlier, and the charred Joshua trees stood naked on the sandy terrain with only the occasional scrub brush adding to the hilly backdrop. I leaned it to touch one of the burnt trees; a residual smoky smell still clung to the plant.

Thoughts on the Desert | A Walk in Joshua Tree National ParkI know a lot of people turn a blind eye toward the desert, declaring it ugly or inhospitable and opting instead for a sandy beach with large palm trees or tight paths cut through luscious green forests. To me, though, there’s something raw and rugged about the desert that draws me to it. The wind and dust tear at my eyes; the sun sizzles my skin. My body is depleted of water in the humidity-free desert.

But I have a way to escape in the desert. I slip on sunglasses and slather on sunscreen. I drink gallons of water. And then I admire the ability of the wildlife and plants to survive in this otherworldly environment. The plants struggle against the wind and sun to stay alive, and yet they’re so bountiful and gorgeous when they flower every spring. The birds hunker down in cacti and small rodents dart from hole to shade, hurrying over the hot sand to find food in the midday heat.

Thoughts on the Desert | A Walk in Joshua Tree National ParkThe animals and plant life in the desert have to fight to claim their space in the desert just as humans have to want to find the bizarre beauty in this hostile environment.

My boots continue to crunch against the sand as I walk. I crest a peak in the path. My friends are waiting for me, pointing at a small patch of red paintbrush flowers, which stand out in stark contrast against the earth tones.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” one of them says.

I smile.

Yes. Yes it is.

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Thoughts on the Desert | A Walk in Joshua Tree National Park
JoAnna is a globe-trotting, idea-inventing, culture-collecting creativity connoisseur with big dreams and a desire to touch all seven continents. You can also find JoAnna at and at The 52 Letters Project.

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10 Responses

  1. Jen Laceda says:

    My dad bought a plot of land close to Joshua Tree NP some 20 years ago. The land basically looks like an arid desert land :) Perhaps it’s time for me to take a visit there.

  2. Abbie says:

    Yay! I’m one of those friends :)

  3. I absolutely love your description of the heat — despite how harsh the climate is, I have always, always wanted to visit here!

  4. Shannon OD says:

    I have really been thinking about making a trip out to Joshua Tree in when I head back to LA for a month-long visit — friends have come back with tales of the inspiring solitude; your post may very well inspire me to make the trip to Joshua Tree actually happen now :-)

  5. Maggie says:

    I’m lucky enough to live near Joshua Tree and spend many weekends exploring it. After five years here, I still haven’t seen it all — the park is bigger than Rhode Island! — and the beauty of the high desert is always shifting and changing. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

    Thanks for the lovely post.

  6. JoAnna says:

    Do it! It’s a really fantastic park. There’s a lot of bouldering and climbing. I’m more of a hiker myself, and there are a ton of trails to wander along here. If you happen to go through Mojave National Preserve on your way to or from the park, there’s a crazy chloride lake between Joshua Tree and Mojave that you’ve got to see to believe.

  7. JoAnna says:

    @Jen ~ It’s the kind of place you have to experience to truly appreciate. I hope you make it out some day soon!

  8. JoAnna says:

    Why yes you are, Abbie! :)

  9. JoAnna says:

    Do it! The drive from L.A. is barely two hours. After a couple weeks in L.A., you might want to escape to the desert for a day or two anyway!

  10. JoAnna says:

    You’re welcome … thanks for commenting.

    So many people dislike the desert for whatever reason, so it’s great to hear that after five years of wandering through Joshua Tree, you still find things to discover. I feel that way about Death Valley too.

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