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High Desert High: Joshua Tree

November 14, 2011


Named by Mormon travelers who were reminded of the prophet with his arms raised in  prayer, the yucca known as the Joshua Tree is a striking presence in the high desert community that bears its name. With branches that zig, then zag, and end in exploding clusters of blade-like leaves, the Joshua tree is really strange and very beautiful. Joshua Tree, the place, is situated in San Bernardino county’s high desert and is a small community of 7,000-plus; it is also home to the National Park of the same name. Part of the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree is a place of extreme temperatures, with summer days easily topping 100°, and freezing nights in winter. The topography is extreme as well, and hills composed of piles of rocks from house-sized on down seem to rise suddenly from the desert’s sandy flatness. Business areas contain the usual chain stores and restaurant suspects, but there’s also a lively selection of antique and vintage stores to explore. The day we spent there recently, we were delighted to find a lively undercurrent of creativity that had a distinct desert vibe …

Big love

I had Paul pull over so that I could run across Joshua Tree’s  two-lane highway to take this photo. This amazing roadside cross made of rusted horseshoes demanded my attention and epitomizes the make-do creative spirit I love so much. We found that Joshua Tree, while a small town, is big enough to include within its sandy expanses refuge for artists, sculptors and other craftspersons. Some of these use it as a getaway from the big city (as in this recent LA Times article) and some have decided to make this their post-retirement home base. We went into neighborhoods with backyards that looked up at the rock pile hillsides and found isolated homes that referenced both desert shacks and modern abodes; the decidedly out-of-left-field effect was exciting. We found a throw-back desert motel with a fenced, blank façade that was actually a high style interpretation of same, its various elements provided by local craftsmen. We found a junk store that was actually a front for an outdoor art gallery displaying the distressed, candy-colored found sculptures of its owner, and we found an open-air art installation so personal and moving I found myself holding back tears.

I loved our day in Joshua Tree, and with this background post will share what we found. First, shopping; with succulents, antiques and vintage items, and sculpture and art. Followed by a modern reinterpretation of a desert motel, and ending with the Noah Purifoy outdoor sculpture installation. Stay, we’re going high desert!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. reubix1 permalink*
    November 14, 2011 5:03 am

    Freeze Frame Photo: I accidently deleted your comment, but stay tuned, other photos are coming up!

  2. Mrs. Monstera permalink
    November 14, 2011 5:03 am

    I love Joshua Tree. I really, really do. I love the plants, and the rocks, and the sky and the thrift stores. Every year for my birthday I make my SO take me for a ride around the Park to look at all the flowers (Ocotillo! Brittlebush! Asters! Echinocereus!) and animals. Sometimes it rains and that’s nice, too. Looking forward to seeing everything you found on your trip!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 14, 2011 5:12 am

      Omigod, rain in Joshua Tree must be awesome … I can see why you’d love it; I did, as you can tell. More coming!

  3. November 14, 2011 6:45 am

    You’ve certainly got my attention, I can’t wait!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 14, 2011 12:50 pm

      I’m still trying to get through all the pictures I took, Loree, but I’m getting there …

  4. November 14, 2011 7:09 am

    I’ll never forget my first time driving through southern California and the first one I saw. I was like “That? That crazy looking thing is a Joshua tree?”

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 14, 2011 12:51 pm

      Joshua trees do seem “wrong”, don’t they … it took some getting used to the sudden direction changes of the branches for me!

  5. November 14, 2011 3:23 pm

    We’re on the same page today! My husband and I spent the weekend in Palm Springs with a wonderful hike to the 49 Palms Oasis on Saturday. We were gifted with a few hours of great weather…surrounded on each side by rain. Like you, I love everything about Joshua Tree and took a lot of photos. We enjoyed a home-cooked lunch at The Natural Sisters Cafe, as well. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing more photos. I posted a mosaic of photos I took here: 🙂

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 14, 2011 3:34 pm

      Lori, thanks for describing what sounds like a great day in Joshua Tree! Stand by for more pics of what we found and thanks for reading, Reuben
      … and thanks for the link!

  6. November 15, 2011 2:34 am

    I read about Noah Purifoy’s exhibit quite a few years ago but just haven’t made it out there. No one else ever knew what I was talking about…now I will have to make the concerted effort to get out there. Looking forward to pix.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 15, 2011 3:53 am

      Coming soon, Kim … You have to go, it’s amazing!

  7. November 15, 2011 4:29 am

    So very many years since I’ve been to Joshua Tree; my grandma was a desert lady (after grandpa got TB) and my childhood was filled up with trips to Joshua Tree, PS, Idyllwild, Anza Borrego, etc. Joshua Tree was by far my favorite. Can’t wait to see your photos.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 15, 2011 4:36 am

      Thanks, Kathy! I’m more than slightly horrified that I’ve only now gone to Joshua Tree …. I love reading everyone’s reminiscences and connections to this amazing place.

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