Classic U2 Album National Park

In a great way, Joshua Tree is an odd place. Located on a big plateau in the middle of the Southern California desert, this park is full of strange looking monolithic rock piles and thousands of gnarled Agave trees sticking out of the earth. It is a park for the hiker, the rock climber, the explorer, the tourist, or all of the above. But preferably in the cool season. And now it was the park for me, after what turned out to be a failed Mexican Visa attempt in Yuma. Doing my best to turn disappointment into action, I rented a car the night before and made the three hour drive to the park at daybreak.

It’s a big park that can easily take a week to reach the other side in a backpack. But I only had about half the day to see it, so I researched what seemed to be the most eventful looking area for a day hike. I decided on the Hidden Valley area and started driving for the south entrance. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, or if some higher power was trolling me, but when I turned off the exit of I-10 for the park road, U2’s “With or Without You” started playing on the radio.

I drove north for 40 miles over two mountain passes and valley floors. Joshua Trees appeared – first small, but getting bigger with each mile until they were easily 10 feet high. Soon, I reached the parking lot at Hidden Valley and got out. For the next three hours I hiked around the rock piles and pathways along the valley. After a while, it started to feel like I was walking in an ancient garden. As if it were ruins of some age-old civilization who left their monuments behind, only to be covered in sand and stone – yet leaving a legacy to these trees, who somehow thrive in the dust.

The surrounding rock piles drew climbers of all skill levels for bouldering and harness climbing. I saw young kids slowly going up small boulders with trained instructors above mattresses. Other people repelled down rock cliffs easily 200 feet high. Everywhere, people were scrambling over rocks. It was like Mother Nature’s jungle gym. Even I tried to find a small boulder pile to look out over the valley above the treetops.

Despite the enchanting landscapes in this park, the mid-afternoon sun reminded me that I haven’t acclimated to the southwest. Not even in December. I drove out, leaving this strange plateau behind. I needed to reach the Cabazon Dinosaurs by the golden hour.

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.