Being born and raised in the Midwest, the existence of hilly roads, mountains and an ocean view was foreign to me. I am also not much of a traveler and believe I can count on one hand how many different states I’ve been to in my lifetime. I do, however, have a select few landmarks that I have been fortunate enough to visit that I consider to by my favorite. My reasons are different for each destination, but they all share one common denominator. Serenity. Each place holds a peacefulness that cannot be put into words, a calming sensation that when you breathe in you just want it to take you over. You close your eyes and can see clearer and peace surrounds you even in chaos. The first destination I chose to write about is a place that can capture adventure and serenity in every mountain crevice and where the sunset is like no other (at least what I’ve seen).
Never traveling much, my experiences are limited so every moment I am able to tear myself away from Northwest Indiana (eye roll) I truly try to take advantage and enjoy. However, as much of a dream as is it for me to experience new things there are places I never had a desire to visit. California was one of them. Although I believe every kid dreams of Los Angeles, I was never infatuated with the famous. I would be confused as to why people obsessed over the hype of celebrity and was not the type to faint if I saw Michael Jackson or enter into a mob to get Heather Locklear’s autograph. Ignorant to the fact that there was a lot more to the golden coast than smog, fake plastic people and earthquakes sucking the entire state down into the ocean, I never saw myself traveling to the west coast.
It took some major convincing to give the place “where dreams come true” a chance, but I boarded a plane one January and headed out to unknown territory. After landing in LAX, and renting a PT Cruiser (yeah we were cool), we arrived at our hotel in West Hollywood. Our itinerary for the long weekend included visits to all the tourist spots. However, first and foremost we visited the hotel bar. After two days of submerging ourselves in the scene that is Hollywood (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, walk of fame, Ripley’s and Marilyn Monroe’s) visiting the very exciting and colorful tar pits and a panic attack in the Hollywood Hills, we decided a relaxing day was necessary. Maybe a little out of the way, but loving the palm trees, the smell of the ocean and surprisingly, California, I was embracing every new adventure we went on. So we took about a 2-hour drive outside of the hype, stopping only for Jack In The Box, and directed our car toward Joshua Tree National Park.
After winding ourselves around hilly mountain roads entranced by the massive metal windmills, we finally reached the entrance to the park. Turning into the parking lot of a lonely little log cabin corner store we browsed around and shopped for magnets, post cards and candles (some smelling wonderful and some not so much). After we got our fill, we drove deeper into the park down a long never-ending road. Being from Indiana where everything is flat and corn, I was amazed. I had seen pictures and heard stories of Joshua Tree but words could not describe the beauty. We arrived in the daylight although there was not much of it left, we were happy because for January, it was strangely warm enough to just wear long sleeves. Getting out of the car, I felt so far away from society as I took in the 800,000 acres of desert incredibleness. Words escaped me. It was naturally gorgeous and the ultimate play land for nature lovers/hikers, campers and mountain climbers.
We slowly walked through the park taking pictures by the Joshua trees and pretending to climb the rocks while witnessing, being afraid for and entertained by the people scaling sides of mountains. Various sizes and shapes of rock formations spread throughout the enormous piece of untouched land made for great climbing for beginners and experts alike. I am neither, and was happy just watching. Continuing our journey through the park we stayed pretty close to our car only due to time constraints. Otherwise, I could have spent hours possibly days just wandering around the many trails in awe of the scenery.
As the day turned to dusk and the colors in the sky began to change, we realized, it was definitely not a place you would want to get caught at in the dark. Knowing it was almost time to leave, but not wanting to end such a great day, we decided to take short drive to Keys View and watch the sun set over the valley. Best Decision Ever. We found a spot to park and climbed the side of a mountain (via stairs) to the lookout. As we put space between ourselves and the solid ground the comfortable warmth that I was not accustomed to in an Indiana winter faded away, and I started to feel more at home when the temperature dropped about 25 degrees. My sweatshirt did not shield the cold wind that ripped right through the thin material, my nose was frozen and my cheeks were cherry red, but we were determined to stay and witness the intensity of the sun dip behind the mountains. I don’t regret the frostbite at all.
It was breathtaking. It was quieter then quiet and as the fiery circle descended, the colors exploded and spread through the sky in soft pastel purples and pinks. The mountain range that swallowed up the light cast an array of dancing shadows throughout the valley. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, the seconds felt like minutes and the minutes like hours. Soon all you could see was the dim erratic rays that reached out as if they were refusing to set – Breathtaking, calm and serene. One of my favorite places ever.
Leaving the park I felt calmness and a connection to my surroundings. It was an experience that I will always cherish and an unbelievable sight that luckily was caught on film. It was a perfect day and so peaceful that the stress of almost running out of gas in the middle of the desert on the way back to the hotel was not as terrifying as it could have been…