This is story of how I got lost and found in the desert, at Joshua Tree National Park.
Megan had a wedding in Palm Springs, which is why we detoured to southern California on our way to Oregon and so I took the car and drove to Joshua Tree to get lost. It’s silly, really. This was Sunday and we’d been in the car all day, every day since Wednesday, and so instead of spending the day looking amazing poolside, I got back in the car, drove to Joshua Tree and spent the day there, meeting lizards and chasing birds.
The desert holds a special sort of magic for me, an East Coast girl who grew up in the mountains of Virginia and the caves of Ohio. Joshua Tree is it’s own world, different from everything and anything I’ve ever experienced.
I lost cell signal seconds after entering the park and was plunged into a sort of aloneness that doesn’t feel familiar anymore. I couldn’t text, couldn’t call, couldn’t instagram my adventures and I found myself, alone in that park, startlingly okay with being disconnected from everything and everyone. I didn’t have an agenda that day, it was just me and the desert and as much time as I needed to see it and feel it and live it.
When a heart is broken it takes a lot to fix it, when the rug is pulled out from under you, when everything and everyday feels hard, it takes a lot. But being alone in the desert – really, really alone – healed something, some part of me that wasn’t sure I knew how to be alone.
Because here’s the thing – I didn’t know, until I went to Joshua Tree, that I could have adventures on my own. I didn’t know that I could walk away from the world for a little bit and get lost, alone. I didn’t know that I could be okay without him, until I found myself alone in the desert, but there I was, standing on top of a rock pile I’d climbed, the desert and the trees and the earth spread before me and even though there was this overwhelming sort of sadness that comes with heartbreak, there was also an incredible moment of peace. I wished him there a handful of times, because he’s my best friend and we’ve always adventured best together, but for so much of that day being alone in the desert felt exactly like the right thing to be.
I spent six hours there, at Joshua Tree, driving through the entire park, shocked at the changing landscapes, amazed by the little lizards I found at the base of one of the trees, impressed by this one incredible blue bird who greeted me on a trailhead. I chased the crows and the sun and arrived, at sunset at the southern edge of the park, pulled over on the shoulder, not wanting the day be over because the peace I found there rivals nothing. I heard a coyote yip, got bit by bugs that swarm as the night begins to break and I felt, solidly and epically at peace, with all of it, with the pain and hurt and the anger and the inability to understand how something so perfect could ever be broken.
One thing about the desert is so much of the beauty is covered in sharp edges, spikes and thorns. You see a beautiful tree, bent by the wind and approach it to find it covered, solidly, in spiky armor. There’s a protective layer on so much of the desert.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay, sprawled on the hood of the car, to watch the stars come out. I wanted to go wild in that park, walk into the wilderness and not come out until my heart is healed. I’m still a little impressed that I managed to pull myself away from it, that the feral parts of me didn’t take over and force me into the rocks. I think the only thing that stopped me from going into the wild was my lack of provisions. And a slight fear of rattlesnakes.