One of my favorite family vacations with our kids was a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona that included driving to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona. It was an amazing trip filled with scenery that changed by the minute and seemed to be from another planet. One particular species of the yucca plant drew our intense attention along the way; it was the Joshua tree. My husband remarked several times on how much he liked those trees, and we were both fascinated by their shape and character, which reminded me of some of the scenery from our high school’s recent performance of “Seussical the Musical”.
Shortly after that trip I saw a magazine ad with a couple in a convertible driving through the Joshua Trees and I ripped the page out of the magazine and hung it on the wall above my husband’s desk. “We will go back and see the Joshua Trees again someday”, I told him. It’s been ten years but we finally made the trip back out west to the desert, because for his birthday he wanted to go somewhere HOT. And he got it.
Because our kids are now older teenagers and young adults, we were determined to make our trips together memorable and a little adventurous (not to mention sweaty). We headed to Palm Springs where we toasted ourselves up like marshmallows for a few days to the tune of 111 degrees, and before leaving for a rendezvous with friends at the beach, made sure to visit the Joshua Tree National Park. There was one particular area where you could do a mile hike (that took about an hour over rocks, near canyons, and through the sands and cactus) and I got to check “Desert Hike” and “Joshua Tree Park” off of my bucket list.
We attempted to leave early from our hotel at the recommendation of everyone we talked to in the area since the park was only an hour away, but by the time we loaded up with water and checked in at the visitor center for maps, we were actually hiking closer to mid-day. We had more water bottles than I could count; plus hats, sunscreen, good shoes and lots of energy when we began, and although we had hit the gym every day of our vacation together so far, I was not prepared for climbing the many thick rock steps that bookend the trail in the heat.
About 10 minutes into the hike, JD asked me why I thought the trees were shaped so strangely, and popped up so randomly out of the desert floor. I took some pictures and made some guesses, but the reason came soon enough. About half way through the 100 degree hike, I noticed that these punky-looking trees were life-saving. “Look!” I said to JD, hovering behind one particularly large yucca “SHADE GIVERS! God is GENIUS!” I panted.
I read that the Joshua Trees got their name from some Mormon travelers who thought they appeared to look like Joshua in the Bible (the book of Joshua chapter 8) when the Lord tells Joshua to stretch out his sword toward the city of Ai during a battle. The trees “arm-like” branches are all lifted upward toward the sky and they do assume a praiseworthy stance, adding to their character.
The shade of those Lorax-looking trees on that desert hike was at least 20 degrees cooler, and from that perspective, the beauty of the Mars-like terrain seemed a little less hostile. The voice of Bugs Bunny (dragging himself through the hot desert) saying “I think I’m having a mirage-ee” was starting to run through my mind as a fallen tree stump took on the look of an alligator and I wondered if I was having my own mirage. Maybe it was just the sweat dripping in my eyes that made my vision blurry, I told myself, but maybe I had overestimated my stamina.
“Um, Mom? Are you ok?” asked LB, walking behind me trying to make sure I didn’t slip (again). “Sure babe, why?” I played it off. “Well your back is soaked. Do you need to stop for a minute?” He asked. “Oh no”, I waved it away. “That’s just the water I poured over my head a minute ago to cool myself off.” I explained, shaking my half-emptied bottle of water.
“Um…ok…” he mumbled. That didn’t seem to make him feel that I was handling the situation any better than the other reason why my shirt must be soaked.
The good news was my pulse pounding in my head was a great beat that eventually “played me off” the desert floor, and back into the car where we blasted the air, and re-hydrated ourselves as we proceeded toward the highest elevation in the park, only to be slowed down by a passing coyote and a wrong turn.
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the sword that was in his hand toward the city. 19 As soon as he stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward.