Wow, there is a lot to keep me going on this journey, even without museums, restaurants, or indoor performances. I am especially grateful to have this opportunity to see a few of our incredible national parks. My first on this trip is Joshua Tree. On Sunday, while the rest of America was watching the Super Bowl, I was hiking one of America’s Super Parks.
Joshua Tree National Park is desert but, like all deserts, full of surprises. Its namesake trees frame giant outcroppings of quartz and dolomite, jagged and rounded and loafed, randomly settled across the landscape. Boulders are balanced on top of boulders as if carefully placed to create caves and bridges and doors. I arrived at the park early, when the light gives the layered rock formations the feeling of a fourth dimension. Really beautiful.
After a long hike through a dolomite canyon, I drove to the parking lot of another trail head and saw this:
I know. Big rock. But look closely near the top of the rock’s middle. Here is a close up.
That’s a man up there doing a free climb! This was such a thrill to witness! It was also scary watching the climber inch his way across the boulder’s flat face, using his fingers like claws and his feet like suction cups. I could imagine him concentrating on every inch and half inch of his journey, his life in the balance. This climber with strength and skill and powers of concentration also had the spirit of a performer: when he got to the ledge that transects the center right on the rock, he skipped down it ballet-style and then jumped six feet through the void to a flat-topped boulder. What style! I was his only audience and I applauded, but he probably didn’t hear me. I imagine he was somewhere deep inside himself, overtaken by an adrenalin rush.
Before I left the area, I got to enjoy another kind of desert art. Not far from the park, out on a dirt road of small stucco houses, is an unusual art installation. The Noah Purifoy Museum is four acres of large sculptures created from the flotsam of desert life, very American. Some are ironic or humorous. Some invite you to rethink the essential nature of cookie sheets or toilets. At first, you assume this is the work of a sun-crazed desert rat, living on cans of Vienna sausages and last year’s oranges. In fact, they are the work of Noah Purifoy, who was once on the California Arts Council and whose work is on display in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Purifoy lived in Joshua Tree for the last 13 years of his life, an interesting choice for a highly educated black artist.
Leaving the museum, I took some cleansing breaths thinking about my journey ahead, which would involve a free solo across the Mohave Desert. People do it all the time, I knew, but when it comes to some fears, we are not “people.”
My drive looked like this for most of 120 miles. In the first few miles, I noticed that the white truck up ahead seemed to be in a caravan with a small blue car.
So when the truck and the car made a pit stop, I did too. After they used the facilities, I introduced myself and assured them I wasn’t stalking them. Just trying to return to my usual state of over-confidence. They offered to share their tailgate lunch and to let me drive between their two cars. I loved that.
Back on the road, the desert randomly became a canvas for history and a little art. At the intersection of Route 66, I saw Roy’s, a famous icon of California’s mid-century history.
And then, imagine seeing this in the middle of nowhere…there are actually two of them.
And this, which was not art or a joke, although at the time, it felt like both.
I arrived in Las Vegas in one piece and proceeded to make things more difficult for myself. I accidentally got off the freeway at the most insane part of the strip, where most of the cars in the State of Nevada appeared to be, even on Super Bowl Sunday during a pandemic. Anyway, there is a lot more to Las Vegas than casinos and faux landmarks. Stay tuned….