The last time I was in Joshua Tree was around about the year 2003. I was living in Santa Cruz, sorta engaged to a (different) South African, working as a massage therapist, an avid climber, and a vegetarian. My, how the world turns. Arriving at the gates, I was greeted by a chipper girl whose smile bounced into my car with pure joy as she handed me a map. This was the first of many times that my America the Beautiful pass would be proudly hanging from my mirror, and I silently celebrated it's inauguration. As I drove down the long, curvy roads, I tried to remember which direction I had driven the last time, in which campground(s) I had stayed, which boulders had I climbed a lifetime ago. I was also captivated once again by the natural beauty around me, taking in for the second time this week some of the most dramatic landscape I've ever seen. Sure, they're just rocks, but they have a story. I imagined the time in our planet's history, a megazillion years ago, when the earth playfully took a huge handful of rocks and shoved them in her mouth so her cheeks were bulging, then taking her hands like we did when we were kids, smashing them against those overstuffed cheek pockets so that its contents spewed out in front of her, landing in little piles everywhere, the earth busting up laughing, little rock dribbles hanging off her lips as her friends also gathered up their cheeks to join in on the ridiculously simple yet hugely entertaining afternoon game. There were also more actual Joshua Trees than I remembered, dotting the flat plains in every direction with their prickly branches and furry trunks, like guardians watching over their homestead.
I drove around for quite awhile up and down the various roads, watching happy people climb up and around the boulders of Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, and White Tanks. I took my Mini into several campgrounds to jog my memory and see if I could recall which ones would bring flashes of my past. Only one of them did, it was Belle campground, and I immediately saw myself and Stacy climbing rocks, setting up a tent, running to the pit toilets. It was a fond memory, and I felt comforted by its company. Part of me missed those times- so carefree, such great bonds, living large outdoors with such intensity. The other part was just happy to be where I am, with those memories as great reminders of a life well lived, and the boulders ahead marking the coming of a new day.