The wind is heavy, more like a wall of sound and dust than invisible moving air. Tonight our caravan of three families in Airstreams and a woman in a tent will not build a fire, we won’t sit around as the horizon goes purple and watch the young children play tag and ride bikes and chase after the two dogs who have free range here in this BLM land, this government swath of real estate that proves home to a different set of motorhomes, car campers and Volkswagen buses every night.
It’s free. And nearby Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds fill up quickly on the weekends. The rangers point people here.
We came by choice.
During the days we’ll scramble over rocks or hike to abandoned mines. We’ll study the Mojave desert plant life and watch as hawks and ravens circle above. Caws of crows echo between the massive boulders, and the yuccas rustle like a distant brook’s babble when the wind picks back up. It’s hot. And dry. We shower infrequently as the BLM land has no hookups or even nearby water source.
Nights when the wind is calm and we can partake in the activities this camping lifestyle lends itself to, when the fire burns warm our legs and the children are free to wander far away in this flat open space, the coyotes howl, their sound like a combination of drunken party people and screaming babies. The stars glow. We see shooters, pray for the moon to go down quickly. Eyes close happily.
With morning comes communal coffee or everyone disappears to run their own errands. We meet up at the park and do it all over again.
The Joshua Trees themselves form a forest. Not spread out like in the saguaro forests, like most desert plants do, they form thickets that–with the undergrowth of prickly pear and cholla cactus, creosote and juniper–would be almost impossible to walk through.
Scrub jays and orioles land in their daggery leaves. Rock climbers haul up steep cliffs. The kids slip and trip and stumble along the sandy trails. A coyote has a staring contest with everyone in our van after a hike near Black Rock Campground.
And then we all dissipate, all in our own directions, all after our own particular adventures.
“But where will you be in two weeks?” we say. Hugs, high fives, and tail lights ensue.
And so tomorrow morning our progression northward will begin. Slowly, up the Eastern Sierras and into the Pacific Northwest by summer.