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- I stood in the shadow of the gnarled trunk of the Joshua Tree, its twisted arms coiling into the air. The sun blazed like a copper coin in the limitless blue sky, beating down upon the well-worn backpacks of travelers below. Each of us hailed from different cities — the various pockets that characterized a majority of the West Coast — yet amid the sluggish waves of humidity we were all the same, panting and heaving across the sand. All but the Joshua Tree submitted to the sweltering heat. Its fibrous, prickly leaves dutifully extended towards the sky, guiding exhausted travelers westward. As the daughter of two ‘plant-fanatics’, the cultivation of plants has taught me plenty over the years. From reeds of bamboo, I found grace, from cherry blossoms I understood transience. But from the Joshua Tree, I learned resilience, enduring and tenacious in a way that characterized Palm Springs as a whole.Our journey towards the Joshua Tree National Park began at the back of a cramped minivan. The unmoving presence of rush-hour traffic was suffocating. Eight hours long on a so-called ‘good day’ and ten hours amidst an accident, the road trip to Palm Springs is tedious and excruciating. For any bold tourists willing to make the drive, I would suggest bringing along as many snacks, blankets, books, and movies as possible. For those faint of heart, a one-way flight to Southern California is roughly $200 dollars.As once said by Michael Uhl, “You’ve got to pick your poison.”The silver lining came in the form of a local Denny’s a few hours away from our destination. The diner was one of the few buildings dotting the otherwise barren expanse. But at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, Denny’s was overflowing with families, the line extending into the outskirts of the parking lot.
Was it the gnawing appetite of a family stuck in a minivan for the past eight hours? Or the touch of a deft chef, versed in the art of whisking the perfect ratio of baking powder and sugar? Whatever may have been the source, our breakfast at Denny’s was delicious, from the perfect crunch of the French toast to the creamy softness of the pumpkin pie.Once we arrived at the Westin hotel, we were a flurry of suitcases and backpacks, tourist maps and cell phone chargers. Flash forward to two hours later, when, (courtesy of two friendly receptionists and Google Maps), we had finally reached our destination. The entrance of the Joshua Tree National Park is a black wooden board nailed to a brick wall. A cross between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, the National Park is a streak of bronze, spotted with stray shrubs and wooden signs for hikers. Armed with as many water bottles we could stuff inside our backpacks, my family chose the Skull Rock Trail — a fairly simple, two-mile trek that meandered through famously bizarre rock formations and stray bunches of wildflowers. For those planning to follow in our footsteps, I would suggest dressing in t-shirts and shorts for the unforgiving afternoon sunlight. But do make sure to carry a jacket along, as evenings in the desert are equally bleak.We hiked in silence for the first half hour. The steady rhythm of our sneakers slapping against the dirt dulled in my mind, my eyes set only on the ever-changing horizon. It was soothing, a quiet journey only occasionally interrupted by the sound of camera shutters. And then, fifteen minutes into our trek, we encountered our first Joshua Tree.It was beautiful, in its own, extraordinary way. They say the tree was first named by a group of Mormon settlers, crossing the Mojave expanse the same way we did so many years ago. Their first glimpse of the Joshua Tree was the sign that they had finally reached the halfway point in their journey towards the promised land. To them, the tree was a symbol of hope, of the home they had yet to see.I kept walking, the shadow of the Joshua tree following my footsteps. My trip to Palm Springs was a mixture of yin and yang, and the desert, with its chilly evenings and blazing afternoons, embodies that perfectly. We finished the trail at sunset, the final drops of sunlight trickling down the mountainside.
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