When I quit my job several months ago, I did not have a Master Plan. All I knew was that I had to go on a road trip. A road trip seemed like it would be cleansing, meditative. I could visit all my friends who live on the West Coast and whom I rarely have the time or resources to visit properly. The Road and America would help me recover a sense of identity I felt I’d lost. I decided that rather than photograph my adventures, I would draw them, the thought being that drawing would force me to be more “present.” I’m going to be posting those drawings and thoughts from the trip in installments. Here goes the first.
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Earlier this year, I flew to Arizona where I have family. I borrowed a car and drove West. My mom and my nieces waved me goodbye from the drugstore parking lot down the road from my parents’ house. It took over an hour to get out of the metropolitan Phoenix area. I had no idea Phoenix is such a wide city. Miles upon miles of big stores, the occasional lonely saguaro, more big stores. Each time I thought there could be no more adobe-style housing developments stretching into the sandy hills, there were more.
I made it into the desert. Alone in the car, I grinned like a madwoman, happy to be driving. Before crossing the border into California, I stopped in Quartzsite and bought myself some celebratory beef jerky. The jerky people let me sample different varieties before I committed: teriyaki? carne asada? sweet and spicy? Each sample handed to me delicately with small wooden tongs. I looked at gems in a massive hangar of a store called Gem World. When I didn’t buy any gems, the saleslady looked at me as if to say, “Are you crazy? You just walked into a warehouse full of buckets of pretty rocks and you don’t even want a small polished quartz unicorn to take with you as a memento?!” I wanted to tell her I was happy with just the jerky.
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Joshua Tree National Park covers corners of two different deserts. If you start on the southeast end of the park, you might think you went to the wrong Joshua Tree National Park, because there are no Joshua trees. That’s the side of the park that’s filled with ocotillos (what fireworks would be if fireworks were flora). It’s part of the Colorado desert, which is in turn part of the Sonoran desert.
I started in the Colorado/Sonoran desert part of the park. I saw a cottonwood grove, blooming like an emerald city in a fault line between two rocky outcroppings. Farther along, everything was bone dry. My sneakers got dusty. I met a lizard. He sat on a rock while I drank water. I hiked to Mastodon Peak where crows circled overhead. I could see for miles. I was so happy to be on a road trip, to not be a lawyer in a law firm in midtown Manhattan, to have such a blank slate, to be so surrounded with big beautiful non-judgmental rocks, that I cried. When I met hikers on the way back, I was cheerful but puffy-eyed.
The northwest side of Joshua Tree encompasses part of the Mojave Desert. The road that leads there was under construction, so we had to be led by a pace car. We drove slowly over gravelly bits for miles and I listened to NPR. When I saw the first Joshua trees, I squealed. They are every bit as Seussian as I thought they’d be, but still so beautiful and majestic to see up close. At Keys View, an overlook where one can see the San Andreas fault cut across the Coachella Valley, there was a group of men, posing suggestively on a dead tree. They had big muscles and were very tan. One gentleman inexplicably had on a Mexican wrestling mask. He crouched and purred, while his friend photographed him against the dramatic backdrop.