I am sitting at a local coffee shop in Twentynine Palms, California. On the plate are the crumbs of my finished sandwich.
“Should we order dessert?” I ask Viktoria as my eyes scroll on the menu. She looks at me with a vulnerable look.
“What do they have?”
“They have the Desert dessert.”
“Perfect, I imagine it comes with Desert ice cream.”
“Of course,” I reassure her, “it’s the only way they serve dessert here.”
And that is how our visit to Joshua Tree National Park began. We polished off the cake a la mode, and I said: “Let’s go!”
Most blogs will tell you that Joshua Tree National Park is among the most visited destination in the United States. Three million people flock here every year, concentrated in the fall and the spring. Viktoria and I are not interested in writing another blog full of statistics or itineraries, nor do we want to advise you on accommodations or restaurants in Coachella Valley. In fact, we have no intention to make sense at all, but instead to jot down some random thoughts that one can have only in the desert, especially here, at the admission entry of Joshua Tree National Park. Are you still there? Then, keep reading and try not to giggle too much.
First and foremost, let us talk about all those people coming here: too many. Some of them will impress you for their originality. I see a guy with long Rasta hair, a woman wearing a huge pair of sunglasses shaped like hearts, and another man, walking under an enormous sombrero, as big as a beach umbrella. If you came to the desert to have close encounters of the third kind, you came to the right place. We are not annoyed by the freedom of expression that people manifest in the desert. We are more annoyed by the people in general, especially those driving all over, who are in our way. They are in line at the entrance and the exit of the park, and they take our spot where we want to park. Can some of these people stay home? Freaks, feel free to be as weird as you wish within your domestic walls.
The national park is named after the iconic trees that carpet the ground of the natural reserve. Joshua trees are upside-down trees, as their roots are exposed to the air, and their heads are concealed in the earth. Now I remember having seen them somewhere else. Oh yes, on the cover of the U2 album named after the tree. U2 wrote the song Where The Streets Have No Name here because they must have got lost or missed the few directional signs. It is easy for an Irish person to get lost in the desert, especially after the third or fourth pint of Guinness. But the sensation of being lost in the desert is plausible even for a sober person. Supposedly the desert is an empty space. One comes here to unload. But what I see are a lot of people unloading all kinds of stuff from their cars. You do not feel like a hermit here. It is as crowded as in New York City. And by the way, U2 did not shot their Joshua Tree album pictures here. It was in Zabriskie, Death Valley.
Another random thought: why the word “dessert” is so similar to “desert?” A dessert is moist and sweet versus a desert, dry and harsh. How did these two words get to have in common so many letters? Apparently, the word dessert comes from the French “desservir,” which means to remove what has been served. In other words, if you want to have dessert in France, first you must clear the table. The cleaning of the table makes sense for how the desert came about. It was after the second course. God was on a lunch break in the desert during the week of the Creation and said: “Can you bring me a creme brulee?” And everything was cleared in front of him. The result is, that little, if nothing, was left in the desert. And if you do not believe us, go, and see for yourself that little note on the site of the book of Genesis in the Bible.
Jesus also went to the desert. He did not have the best time here. De facto, he had a devil’s time. The devil himself tempted Jesus three times. At the hotel where you stay, make sure to put the sign outside the door: “Do Not Disturb. Thank You, Devil.” Yep, he has no manners. Who invited him anyhow? We did not, we reassure you. We came here to relax, which does not mean that one is not allowed to sin. We mean those small, good sins. After all, we are on vacation, and why not reward ourselves with a sin here and there?
As a footnote to our footnotes, the question that matters most is if it was worth the effort of coming to Joshua Tree National Park. Viktoria and I can, without any doubt, respond with a yes, and for good reasons. The mystic stillness of the trees will make you wonder. The sunset will leave you speechless. The sun will warm your skin during the winter. You will let it go. Eventually, you will be able to forgive the too many people that took the last space in the parking lot and made you walk an extra mile to get to visit inside the park. It will be all right. Inhale and exhale. Take lots of pictures. Relax. Have fun. Whatever you do, do not forget to have your cake, too. After all, you are in the desert.
~ Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.
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