Desert Girl at Heart

wanderer-at-heart

I’ve lived in the desert most of my life but I have never actually visited Joshua Tree National Park before.  I’ve seen plenty of Joshua Trees in my travels along the side of the freeway but that’s not the same at all. And you know what’s even better than visiting the park? Actually staying overnight there.

pioneer-town

Technically we didn’t stay in the park but we were really really close. Payam and I were super lucky to be invited to stay in a really nice airbnb near Pioneertown. It was a dream come true for me. Right outside the doors of this modern little fortress to the sun were miles and miles of desert. Nothing but rocks and cacti and Joshua Trees as far as the eye could see. The magic of actually staying here is that I could follow the light. There was no rush to catch golden because I was there all day. I could watch the light move across the landscape and paint pictures along its way. The light is what really makes the desert beautiful.

bright-sun

The desert is very inhospitable. It’s spiky-sharp, harsh and dry. Not anywhere you want to be in the summer when it’s 120 degrees and the sun beats down relentlessly…

In winter, however, the desert is BEAUTIFUL! It’s a sunny 60 degrees, almost chilly but the sun warms your back like a cozy blanket. Just like the ocean, the desert commands respect with its vastness. You really feel how small you are and how desperate you would be if you were stranded without food and water. It makes you pause.

bluechairs

We were far from stranded. Even though our airbnb seemed quite remote there were other houses dotting the landscape all around us. They just blended in. I have to give desert-dwellers credit for choosing color palettes that match their environment.

The first morning we were there I woke up early and rushed outside to scout around. You can imagine my surprise when I scaled a small rocky hill behind our airbnb and found this little gathering of blue chairs, glowing in the morning twilight!

It was a bit disconcerting to stumble across remnants of others when you thought you were all alone.  I worried that I might be trespassing but then I though, Eh, they can’t be that mad at me. Obviously we must be kindred spirits with the choice of blue chairs and all… The desert seems to attract artsy sorts.  I could definitely live here. It’s just the flooding and the 120 degree heat I’m not so sure about.

cholla

On the other hand, I did not feel like I was very welcome when I crouched under this cholla bush to take a picture and a large thorn pieced the soft sole of my Ugg boots like it was slicing through butter. My foot was fine but it reminded me that I was far off the path. That’s what you get for stealing photos! the bushes seemed to say, laughing at me. Get back on the trail, city slicker!

dr-seuss-flowers

I love this rust-colored sage flower. All the plants remind me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book. They are almost surreal in how different they are from the flora where I live. There weren’t any wildflowers out yet but I got the feeling they were just around the corner. I’d love to come back here in Spring, that is if everybody else isn’t planning to be there too. I hear it can be quite over-touristed.

adventure-in-the-desert

So we took advantage of it not being busy and Payam and I hiked all over. It was all so pretty.

inhospitable

Inhospitable but pretty. Good thing I wore my army boots!

the-desert-is-weird

No cozy wooded meadows here!

king-of-the-mountain

We scrambled over rocks and took pictures of each other pretending to be King of the Mountain.

me-in-the-rocks

Or in my case, a little field mouse hiding in the rocks.

misty-mountains

Rocks and more rocks… Have you seen those posters making fun of bad yelp reviews of National Parks? Nothing to see here but a bunch of rocks!

rocks-and-more-rocks

But how magical are all these rocks?!!! If you look close enough you can see tiny people scrambling up the sides of them.

rope-walker

They are so tiny they reminded me of the miniature photography of Tanaka Tatsuya . Check out the rope walker above.

wash-desert

The morning light and the evening light was the prettiest. But the strong harsh shadows of mid-day also played at my imagination.

wild-dead-tree

In the middle of the day old dead tress threw black spidery shadows against soft sandstone. And then as the sun slowly set again, the light softened into dreamy atmospheric shades of sunset. We didn’t get any crazy magnificent colorful sunsets but that didn’t bother us at all.

sunset-sunrise-doesnt-matter

Soft subtle sunsets sooth the soul just as well when you have the luxury of not having to do anything but enjoy them.

 

Bug Turns 15: The Road Trip to Nowhere, Part 2

pretty-lighting-in-santa-barbara

Wow. I have so much to say about my last post. I did beat myself up a lot about writing that. I’m learning and you are learning with me. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time but I thought it was normal. It’s not until recently that I’m realizing that not everyone experiences the world the way I do. One of my defense mechanisms is to apologize for everything under the sun so that no one can come at me unexpectedly and make me feel bad about something I’ve done. I overthink everything from everyone’s perspective (often reading my own writing over obsessively, imagining how other people hear it in their heads).  It can be a real drag but it’s just something I do and I’m learning that I don’t need to do it. It’s going to take me a long time to overcome probably. I’m a people-pleaser by nature and I hate any kind of confrontation. So let me just smooth over everything! Crazy, I know. So that said, I had (and maybe still have) a lot of anxiety about sharing this trip. I feel like I have a target on me and some troll is going to find my weak spot and shoot an arrow right under my scales into my heart. It’s happened. But I need to be brave. I love sharing. I love sharing my pictures and my experiences. Describing the magic in a moment is my favorite kind of writing.

Before I continue I’m going to talk about the worst moment in Part 3 of this trip so if you are waiting in suspense I’m sorry. I will have to make you wait another day. And now that I’ve talked it up so much it will probably be anti-climatic so let me apologize for that too! Blah!

the-kimpton-canary-santa-barbara

That night we pulled into Santa Barbara. I love Santa Barbara and it seemed like a good place to stay based on past experiences. I was so relieved to find that it was actually very easy to find a hotel that was open. I’ve visited the Kimpton Properties in Huntington Beach before so when I saw that The Canary  had vacancy we jumped at the chance to stay there. I love Kimpton Properties. They are always so clean and chic. No, we are not made of money and it was pricey to stay there BUT it was Bug’s birthday present so we did not skimp. And the Kimpton Canary did NOT disappoint.  The staff waited on us like we were queens. They even sent up sparkling water and small packages of cookies and gummy bears with a birthday wish for Bug. It was so sweet!

The only problem was that our suite was right underneath the hotel roof pool! Yes, that picture you see of the pool was right over our heads! Talk about freaky. I don’t know about you but all I could think about was the pool falling through the roof onto my head! And there was a high-pitched whining sound, probably a pump for the jacuzzi. At first we didn’t notice it, we were so in love with the room but then as things got quieter and we prepared to go to bed it become more and more of a problem. I have trouble sleeping because of worries already. The pool noise was really hard to block out.

So we called the front desk and they moved us to another suite on the other side of the hotel that was just as beautiful! We were spoiled rotten.

We settled in with our hummus, pita chips and farmer’s market snacks and made it dinner while Bug hooked her phone up to the streaming tv and we watched some terribly inappropriate show. It was awesome.

morning-at-the-kimpton-canary-santa--barbara

The next morning we woke up bright and early. We took a few photos in our photogenic hotel room filled with morning light.

Bug-likes-hotels

Bug drank her sparkling cider she is so obsessed with and then we headed out in search of coffee for me and another great breakfast experience.  I don’t know if this is normal or if I am passing on an eating disorder to my daughter but we love a good foodie moment. We get all warm and fuzzy remembering the great breakfasts we’ve had in different places. We definitely don’t grab a granola bar and eat to live. We live to eat great food.

breakfast-picnic-on-the-roof

Even during a pandemic Santa Barbara has plenty of options for great food. We asked our concierge for a recommendation and then headed off to the Cajun Kitchen right up the street. Have you ever had Cajun juevos rancheros?

The next challenge was where to eat our delicious breakfast. All the outdoor eating areas are shut down, naturally. Then we had a brilliant idea: let’s eat on the roof! Santa Barbara parking structures are known for their rooftop views. Bug’s dad and I used to frequent them often to get our bearings and take a few photos. So we drove to the top of a building and set up a picnic in the parking lot. It might look kind of silly but there weren’t really any parks nearby that we felt comfortable in and this spot was super sunny and nice and totally deserted. We spread out our trendy tapestry, added our sleeping pillows and had a fabulous breakfast picnic.

cajun-breakfast

It was perfect.

Except there was a homeless guy on the street below us bellowing in pain. That’s Santa Barbara for you. Wealth everywhere and a huge population of mentally ill homeless people. It’s really really sad. The pandemic is probably only making it worse. Everywhere we went there were homeless people wandering aimlessly. I was so sad for the guy in pain. He was rolled up in a fetal position crying and yelling. We wanted to give him some of our food (we had plenty) but he seemed really scary and violent so we gave him a wide berth.

stay-six-feet-apart-santa-barbara-pier

After breakfast we packed up our little picnic and got back in the car and headed for the coast. We took a quick detour down to the beach. We watched the skaters in the skate park on the boardwalk for a bit and then wandered down the deserted Santa Barbara pier. I did feel guilty for being out in such a well-known tourist spot. It did seem unfair that we were out enjoying the ghost town that is Santa Barbara these days while everyone else hunkered down at home.

bright-winter-sun-in-santa-barbara-pier

The sun was super bright so we took a few photos and then got back in the car ready to hit the next spot.

beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

That spot was El Capitán State Beach. We drove down a gravel road through a wooded area and at the end of the road we were greeted by the most lovely little rock-and-stick-covered shallow beach that wasn’t that crowded at all.  We quickly learned that it wasn’t crowded because it’s not that comfortable to lounge on a rocky stick-covered beach but it was soooo pretty!

little-sun-shelter-on-the-beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

The sun was out in full-force so we set up a little shelter with our tapestry and made a little camp. I wished we had brought our pillows with us as I moved my butt around to avoid the pokey-ist of sticks but if propped up against a log just so, you could enjoy the beautiful fresh air and mist from the crashing waves. It was pretty enough to paint!

painting-beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

And so I did of course! That’s the fun of these stops with no plan or schedule. We have all the time in the world to paint! We don’t need made-in-China souvenirs to capture our memories when we can capture our own with my handy dandy little makeshift water-coloring kit. I was in heaven.

my-little-model-on-the-beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

Bug seemed pretty content too.

I keep a parasol in my car because I am that photographer who knows it will come in handy for shade AND photo-opportunities.

side-eye-at-the-beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

Have parasol, will pose. :)

bucket-hat-selfies-on-the-beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

Lots of “us” photos.

time-to-pack-up-and-leave-the-beach-of-sticks-and-rocks-el-capitan-state-beach

We stayed until I finished my painting and then packed up again to head north. Every time I say the word “north” it makes me want to sing the North to Alaska song. Why do I even know that song? It’s something from my childhood and super catchy.

onwards-north

We took a detour up the 101 towards Solvang and stopped to take a few photos of some emus on the side of the road. If you look really close you can see them. I guess during normal times when there is not a pandemic going on you can actually get close enough to the emus so that they don’t look like bushes but that part was closed, of course. Mental note to visit that emu farm someday.

When we got to Solvang I started to realize that this trip was probably a mistake. Solvang was so crowded.  People were everywhere eating ice cream and wandering the shops. It was too crowded to stop. We did stop but we quickly realized it wasn’t for us. Of course right about then I realized I neeeeeeeeeded to use the restroom but there wasn’t a public restroom anywhere. Long gone are the days when you can pop into a Starbucks to find a clean empty restroom. What a nightmare. We drove all over trying to find a place we could stop but nothing seemed safe. Finally we just decided we would head north to the next town: Pismo Beach. There’s got to be something there…

And that is when things got even worse.