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Finding Joshua Tree Energy

Rene Cizio

They say Joshua Tree energy is real. That Joshua Tree National Park is a place of multiple energy vortices. That these strange trees that thrive in relentless desolation will balance your energy. Legend has it that Mormon pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua. That the branches of the trees are like arms outstretched in supplication. That they guide travelers and, for this one at least, they have.

Maybe you don’t believe in any of that. If so, I’d guess you’ve never been to Joshua Tree. It might change your mind.

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Rene Cizio

The Joshua Trees only grow in the Mojave Desert, mainly near the national park, but you can see them on the edges of Arizona, Nevada and Utah too. I first saw them in Nevada near the Valley of Fire State Park, arms raised as I drove past. The trees used to span a wider area, but climate change is shrinking their habitat and the national park has the largest density of them. Plus, the park has a vortex. Or maybe the trees cause the vortex? Either way, there are potent vibrations in the deserts out here.

The sun was setting as I finally found my way to the park. I reserved a spot in the Cottonwood campground in the far lower east corner of the park 30 miles from my entrance in the town of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.

Inside the park, I drove down the Pinto Basin and was surprised that there weren’t any Joshua Trees since I’d seen so many in the town. But, even within the park, they are mostly concentrated in just a few sections.

The park borders the Mohave and Colorado desert systems, so each side of the park is distinct. It’s nearly 800,000 acres with an astonishing range of landforms. As I wove my way down the open road toward my campsite, the sun setting behind me, I frequently stopped to breathe the desert air and pay respects to the resilient desert lifeforms. Imagine begin born into such a seemingly desolate place? But also a powerful one.

Cactus Gardens

After about 12 miles, I found the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s a stand of white-tipped teddy bear cholla that takes up about a quarter mile of land in a remote valley in the Pinto Basin. It’s a remarkable sight. The Cholla field glowed white and yellow in the fading light. The cactus looks soft and entirely touchable, but I’m glad I refrained. Later at the visitor’s center, I read that the tiny barbs on the spines are clingy and very painful to remove. Deceptive little plant! But this is also how they reproduce – via barbs that attach to animals who carry them to another location.

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Over the 30 miles, I passed mountain ranges, Ocotillo patches, which I learned to identify in Big Bend National Park. Their long, tall spiny stems make them one of the easiest plants to identify in the desert.

The sun was now below the Pinto Mountains and the sky grew darker. I fought the urge to watch the sunset and limited my stops as I headed toward the bottom edge of the park.

As luck and good timing would have it, I pulled into my camping spot just as darkness fell.

A Desert Night Sky

The Cottonwood campground is small and in the middle of nowhere. The closest city lights are from Twentynine Palms or Indio, each more than 30 miles away, making it the darkest campground in the park and Southern California. It’s also an International Dark Sky Park with excellent viewing of the Milky Way.

Soon, a thin sliver of moon and one lone star appeared in the deep blue sky. I reclined on the hood of my van and waited for the clouds to clear. Instead, they thickened like a sheet of cotton quilt filler across the top of everything.

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With the setting of the sun, the heat was gone and the night grew quickly cooler. A hush fell over the other campers as we all sat in silence, without fires or other light sources, and waited in the cold desert for the stars to appear. But they did not.

A Starless Night

Without even a solitary star visible and a blanket of cloud, the night became unbearably quiet. I had to check my ears. There wasn’t a sound. Not even a bird – for here in this part of the desert, there aren’t many. If there were, they quieted just like the humans.

Though I didn’t get the night I was expecting, I received with gratitude a different night—one of absolute silence and calm so complete and singular to be almost otherworldly. No place in the world is as quiet as a desert, so I laid back and listened with preternatural senses for the hum of the Joshua Tree energy vortex.

In the cold morning, the light came on by inches. The silence of the campers around me continued and I took advantage of it with an extra-long chakra meditation. Soon, I could hear the sounds were soft voices and the start of vehicles as they pulled away. I made my coffee in my little camp percolator and made my way toward my first trail of the day. Little did I know my calm and tranquility would be very short-lived.

Desert Creatures

It was about 7 am and I’d been driving about 10 minutes without another car or person in sight. I was going about 40 miles per hour when I saw something crossing the road and slowed to let it get by. As I was passing, it lifted its hairy black leg and moved a bit quicker. My mouth popped open, and a guttural involuntarily scream came out. I was looking at my first wild tarantula.

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I can barely type the words now without reliving it in fear and horror. I am a simple midwesterner, after all, and I carry my fears around with me. This fear was pure black and the size of the thing was much bigger than all the ones I’d seen in aquariums throughout my life. It was so big that I noticed it CROSSING THE ROAD while I drove by at 40 mph. Think about that. I screamed several more times until my throat hurt and I couldn’t scream anymore. Then, I realized I should have taken a picture of it for this blog! I debated for one second if I should turn around and quickly decided I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to see it again; picture be damned.

Now, I remembered the night before when I blithely laid across the hood of my van and walked around in the dark. How many times had I opened my doors? Could a spider have gotten in my van? Did the warmth of the van attract them? Could they have entered through a wheel well or some other spot?  

Lucky? No.

Of course, I was itching all over now, paranoid, and kept jumping at every itch. I laughed hysterically each time I slapped my leg or felt a twitch in my hair. I screamed at the top of my lungs several more times. My peace from the sweet Joshua Tree energy was lost. What a simple easily distracted spirit I have!

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At the visitor’s center, I asked the ranger what type of spider she thought it was and she said it must have been a large black tarantula. I wasn’t sure at first because the only ones I’d ever seen were orange and black. But she showed me a picture and verified it. I cringed again and tried not to scream in her face. She said I was “lucky” because it’s rare to see them. The gifts of the desert are strange indeed. Despite the horror I’d just lived through, I still had a day full of hiking planned. I put my faith in the fact that I wouldn’t get so “lucky” twice in one day.

An Open Forest

In the park’s center, the Joshua Trees are so plentiful it’s a veritable forest of them. This forest, however, is different than others you’ve seen because even though there are thousands of trees, it’s still the desert and open space is everywhere. It’s odd being in an “open forest” where your sightline goes for miles. I’d always thought of the forest as something else. I’d been wrong. Forests are many different ways.

To me, these odd little trees are essentially yucca plants gone wild. In Michigan, where I grew up, my mom had yucca plants, but they were small, spiky bushes that sprouted a white stalk of flowers. In the southwest, those yuccas grow huge, easily 12 times bigger than my mom’s little plants. But here, in Joshua Tree, they grow so big they become actual trees with a thick trunk. The top of the tree sprouts a bunch of yucca bushes, basically.

For trees, they don’t have a long lifespan. They typically live from 150 – 500 years at best and you can tell the oldest one by their height. The oldest are the tallest, though they’re not very tall either. The tallest is less than 50-feet high. Their trunks are thin, too, between just one and three feet wide. They’re easy to hug, unlike another famous California tree – the Redwood.

When a mature Joshua tree blooms, it produces bell-shaped whitish flowers in a cluster like a typical yucca plant. They weren’t blooming during my trip, but these flowers, I’ve read, stink. They don’t bloom on a predictable schedule, as it’s dependent on the rainfall and winter freezes from the previous season. Then, after they bloom, they produce a seedy fruit eaten by the desert creatures. Fascinating things, aren’t they?

Hiking

I went through the entire park and hiked several short trails. Most of the trails in the park are short to keep people out of trouble. The desert is an unforgiving and relentless place. The sun is a fiery ball of heat, depleting essential nutrients even in the cool, crisp morning air. There are few places to find shade and none to find water. When the temperatures reach over 100 degrees in the summer, it would be pretty easy to die.

At Ryan Ranch, I saw abandoned ruins of a historic adobe ranch and wondered about the people who would have lived out here. Just trees, rocks and spiders. There are a lot of rock formations in the middle of the park. Because of the granite monoliths and boulder formations, it’s a popular place for climbers too.

I drove to the back of the park, too and looked out over Keys View. On a steep but short hike, there was a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley (yes, that one), the San Andreas Fault, and even Palm Springs in the distance.

When able to see the vista of any desert, I’m always shocked. It’s unbelievable that people traveled through these places on foot and horse, not knowing how vast it was. How many died across the wide-open lands? As a Midwesterner, it’s still odd to me that people live in the desert, though I have come to love it, at least parts of it, in my way. The energy draws me in.

Black Rock

Every though more and more cars drove into the park, there is a quietude that permeates everything. Even at the busy trails, there was a hush. I did several short one-mile hikes here and there until I made it to the northwest corner across the park 800,000 acres away from where I started that morning.

There’s a separate section called Black Rock outside of the park. There, I found a slightly longer trail at about three miles long called Hi-View. The name sounded daunting, but the elevation gain was roughly just over 500 feet.

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There were people all around me on the other trails, but I was blissfully alone on this one: just me, the desert, Joshua Trees, and the hum of the energy.

The loop wound its way up a steep ridge and peaked with a great view of the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the distance and I sat on a bench right at the top and took it all in.

Joshua Tree Energy

Some people say the desert is spiritual, or mystical and always it is surreal. It has to be. There is only a very particular, thorny resilient type of life that will sustain here. In the desert, there is no comfort nor ease. It peels away everything, and lays bare the bones.

 “The desert does not mean the absence of men; it means the presence of God.”
~Carlo Carretto

The desert forces us to understand what is essential while it does away with everything else. To survive here, we must find and surface our reserves of energy hidden deep within. Somehow, we do. That’s where I think it gets its magic. From that, and some unique trees.

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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