Two nights in L.A. gave us enough time to see some old friends, get a few maps, and hit Sprinkles in 90210. I also convinced Birdie to do my laundry- it was an easy sell when she realized the alternative was to be trapped in her SUV with my unlaundered ski socks for two weeks.
We made it out of la la land by mid-morning and rode through torrential, seat-heater blasting, latte-fogging-my-window, rain for a couple hours.
It cleared up by the time we hit the desert, and when signs for Joshua Tree National Park made themselves apparent we veered off the highway and headed into the bush.
Turns out “the Tree” is a hopelessly inadequate moniker… because of trees, there are a shitload.
The moment you pass into National Park land the scenery goes full Dr. Seuss. The surface is a patchwork of coarse sand and rocks punctuated by monolithic heaps of smooth stones the size of our Mercedes. And between those commanding bouldermounds are hundreds of strange little trees that bear resemblance to an inverted cross-section of a human lung.
Thanks to the brochure we acquired in exchange for paying the park’s road toll I was able to identify these as,
wait for it;
Boom, box ticked.
These weird plants aren’t really trees- they’re Yucca Brevifolia, which is a derivative of agave (the stuff you get tequila from). I’m guessing because they taste as gross as they look, the name “yucca” comes from the reaction of pioneers who tried to eat it.
You’re probably thinking; “Yucca Brevifolia has such a nice ring to it, why change the name to ‘Joshua Tree’”?
The answer to that is decidedly less exciting than I had hoped. The Mormons, in their infinite desert-crossing wisdom, reckoned the weirdly shaped tree looked like the biblical figure Joshua with his arms outstretched in prayer. Of course it does.
The only biblical figure I’d ever heard of is Jesus, so I’m gonna have to take the National Park Service’s word for that one.
Semantics aside the park really is spectacular, and even has a few 4WD-only routes for stalwart adventurers. The ML did fine in loose sand and soldiered down miles of track without a complaint, even with the road tires it was wearing. In fact, the ride was smooth enough for me to wolf the rest of our Sprinkles cupcake cache while at the helm.
Having popped out at the eastern end of the Tree, we linked up with US-10 again and dropped the hammer across the barren wasteland of southeastern California and western Arizona to the city of Mesa, AZ where my aunt and uncle were staying at their place.
Third night of travel and we had only made it one state over… but we hadn’t broken anything. Chalk it up to good luck so far.