We are horrible planners, but incredible at saying 'yes' to anything last minute. This weekend was one of those spontaneous yeses that ended up being so much fun. It wasn't easy though. As we attempted to leave it felt like everything was stacked against us. After 4 attempts at booking an Airbnb, our car breaking down, and an eight hour drive in a rental car, we finally made it to Joshua Tree National Park.
We set off early Friday morning. Theo was strapped into his carseat in the back, Sara in the passenger seat and I took the wheel of our rental black Toyota Camry. Theo was pumped that our little Subaru Impreza was being left behind because that meant that we'd be taking this black "Batman Car" all the way.
After four hours in the car with a toddler things started to get a little rough. We needed gas and conveniently a sign ahead advertised a gas station stating that with every gas fill-up you get a free basket of fruit. That was all the convincing I needed. We pulled into the little farmer-owned gas station, pumped gas, and headed inside to claim ownership to our hard-earned fruit basket. That's when we saw it.
Out the back of the gas station was a humongous bouncy trampoline. I haven't ever since anything like. It felt so random out here in these big open farm fields to find such a gem. Twelve dollars and ten seconds later and all three of us were bouncing our hearts out. I felt like a little kid all over again.
The rest stop also had a bunch of farm animals in the back and a little mini petting zoo. Theo was in heaven. We probably could have stayed here all weekend and he'd forever been satisfied. Why doesn't every gas station have trampolines and animals? Seriously.
Once we were finally able to peel Theo away from the petting-zoo-giant-trampoline-extravaganza and get him back in his carseat we continued on our way until we reached Joshua Tree.
We got in late and went straight to bed in our nice/making-a-murderer-vibe Airbnb. The next morning we woke up early and set off on what was suppose to be short little 1/2 mile hike through the desert to a cool oasis. Well, it turned out to be super hot, super steep, and not very short. We were with Mitch and Kimball (Sara's brother's) and all of us were dying of exhaustion pretty quickly.
It was awesome being out the desert though. Everything appears to be lifeless until you slow down and take a deeper look. If you watch closely you'll notice lizards everywhere, beautiful hawks in the sky, and the tiny footprints of sheep, rabbits, and mice. As we were hiking along we discovered a tortoise making it's way through the dry landscape, chomping it's heart out on the fresh green leaves.
After we were successfully baked in the desert we finally made it to the oasis. I had never been to a real oasis before (nor have I been to a fake one, come to think of it). It was super cool! Right there in the middle of the desert where everything was searing hot lie this beautiful shady area full of green, water, and huge palm trees. Even the air down under the trees felt different. It was humid, cool, and full of life.
Was it worth the hike? Ehhh...that's up for debate, but I'm glad we went.
After a success at experiencing the oasis we headed back to our cars and drove further into Joshua Tree National Park to explore some of the rock formations. I'd have to say that this was probably my favorite part of the trip. The rocks seems to appear out of nowhere in the barren desert landscape. They look like huge stacks of potatoes, carelessly thrown on the ground and piled together.
All around the rocks are little pathways and tunnels that weave and wind their way into new spaces. It's as though nature built a perfect jungle gym made just for exploring. Theo was so funny as we twisted our way through the rocks. He's pretty adamant lately that he is "the guide" and demands that he must go in front of the group. Like any experienced guide does, he constantly checks back to make sure everyone is coming and shouts encouragements like, "You can do it mommy!"
It was super cool watching Theo's confidence grow as we explored. At first, he'd stumble into a new situation that made him unforgettable like a super narrow slot, or a low hanging tunnel, and he'd whine and get scared. As time went on though, he began facing these obstacles with enthusiasm and would run through all the paths with eagerness. It made me realize how important it is to get him out in nature. Nothing in nature is expected or perfect. There are always surprises. Being able to adapt and adjust your way of doing things in order to meet the natural world is a skill that can be learned here, but applied almost anywhere in life. As a father, I need to take more responsibility to make sure he often gets out of his synthetic world of parks and playground equipment and into places like this, where nature dictates the rules.
We finished off our short little trip by staying out playing on the rocks until the sun went down. I've heard good things about Joshua Tree sunsets but this was honestly one of the prettiest sunsets I've seen. I don't know if it was the location, or just the people I was with, but I felt so good as the sun sank below the desert horizon. I couldn't have asked for a better quick weekend getaway.