But You Can Go to Joshua Tree National Park
While on walkabout in Southern California, I felt it. Clear and strong. You can't recover the past because the places, people, and situations have changed. And you have changed too. You just aren't the same person you were in the past. "You can't go home again."
I don't get warm fuzzy feelings when I look back at my 'Wonder Years' growing up in the 1970's. I am not interested in visiting my late parent's track house near the Universiy of Redlands. I don't want to walk the streets of downtown, or hang out at the shopping mall in San Bernardino where I spent many a teenage weekend. Those places have dramatically changed in the last 40+ years. The character I enjoyed in my childhood is gone and I don't feel a connection to the places where I grew up - with one exception.
I have one childhood memory that hasn't changed. I love Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree gained National Park status in 1994. Visiting in the 70's when it was Joshua Tree National Monument, I would go camping with my family and best friend's family. We brought cushioned pads, a cassette tape player, and speakers so we could sit, surrounded by the rocks, listening to the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. As soon as we arrived at our campsite, we would run out to the nearest pile of boulders to scramble and explore. We would climb as high as possible and look out over the desert. We were the master of all we saw. We were on the top of The World.
When I was in college, it was the first place I went camping without parental supervision. Back when we used film and developed it in the darkroom, we would make special trips to the Park to take photographs among the rocks. My sister's artwork above is one of those photos.
When I was a kid in the 70's, the two-hour drive to the campground was painful. "Are we there yet? How much longer? Are we going the long way around, or the short way?" In my youth, I was an annoying passenger. Now I enjoy the five-hour drive from Clovis through the desert.
On this walkabout, we stopped at the Park Visitor Center to check current trail conditions and get a trail map. Joshua Tree National Park has changed from the 70's when it was a National Monument. It was busy with people doing the same thing we were. I don't remember crowds, packed parking lots, or campgrounds filling up with weekend visitors. That is now part of today's modern desert Park experience.
I remember comforting hikes among the piles of boulders, the desert cactus, Joshua trees, big skies, an expansive open landscape, warm dry days, and cool evenings. At night coyotes howled while we gazed at the millions of stars and we traced the path of the Milky Way. The night sky was bigger than anything we had ever imagined.
Most of the hikes in the Park are short, but there is also the opportunity to strike out and walk cross-country wherever the spirit moves you. On this visit, we took the trail up Ryan Mountain, one of the most popular hikes in the Park. The parking lot was so busy, three volunteers in bright yellow safety vests directed traffic to keep everyone safe and orderly.
My Handsome Hiking Partner and I marched up three miles and the 1,000-foot elevation climb to a 360-degree Park view. While a group of 30 Millennials took selfies at the top, we ate our picnic lunch overlooking the expanse of the desert landscape. The trail was busy, but the Southern California air was unusually clean and bright. It flet good to exercise in the open bright sunshine and the dry desert air.
The sky is still big, the boulders are still beautiful, the trail is still dusty, and the night is still wonderous. The horizion is far way, and all you see is natural and open. All you hear is the wind. The Park is still a quiet comforting place. Our hike was rewarding. I am reminded of my youth and I why I love Joshua Tree National Park.
I will soon move and my Southern California childhood memories will be many travel days away. It makes me sad to think that I may not have another chance to be amused by the twisted antics of the Joshua trees, or the comfort of cozy mounds of boulders, or be relieved at the distant view of a desert devoid of human development.
But I know it will always be there. The unimpaired natural landscape and cultural resources values I love will be preserved because it is a National Park. It will remain in my wonder years and it will continue to resemble my memories. Thank goodness for our National Parks!
I can't go home because so much has changed. It is not the same place anymore, and I am not the same person. But "I get by with a little help from my friends," my friends at the National Park Service.
It is OK that I can't go home again.
I can go to Joshua Tree National Park.
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