It took me 50 years to finally get to a National Park and I seriously cannot understand why I waited that long.
Truth is, I don’t think I ever fully realized the scope of this country I live in, the grandeur of the spacious skies and purple mountain majesties that were only mindlessly sung in a song or displayed on my 13″ laptop screen. It’s probably why, when I finally made it out to Joshua Tree National Park with two of my kids and we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the vistas, my daughter simply said, “It’s a desktop.”
I had pretty low expectations for Joshua Tree. The U2 album aside, I really just thought it was going to be a whole lotta dessert and the album cover. Cool place to spend a day and see some rocks.
The drive alone was a completely new experience. Coming from Florida where the highest elevation is from the street to my driveway, the mountains that we passed along the way would probably have been enough. And the fields of windmills that I had only seen in some sci-fi movie years ago were a solid reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
We got to the park armed with water bottles and snacks, broad-rimmed hats and sunscreen. Signs that reminded us to “NOT DIE TODAY” weren’t a deterrent, neither, surprisingly, was learning that tarantulas tend to live in the desert. We were a go.
I was told that Joshua Tree Park is small compared to other National Parks which was perfect for us novices. With no cell service, we kicked it old-school and navigated our route using an actual paper map. We saw the Joshua Trees that yes, were definitely inspirations for Dr. Seuss, we saw rock formations that convinced me that there were giants once upon a time ago who came to this park and just played with boulders as if they were marbles. And we saw fields of cacti that magically glowed in the sunset.
At night, we looked up at the stars, watching meteors whiz by, satellites slowly creep, and caught a random Northern Light moment which we were sure was a sign of aliens instead of the Solar Flare activity that we found out about by googling it later when we had cell service.
It was an overwhelming trip, but mainly because I thought of my daughter’s comment. We were in a screen saver, a desktop image in real life. Without phones to distract us, we saw nature the way it was intended – the massive sky, the unlimited nighttime universe, the endless desert vista. We hiked through elaborate rock formations and looked out over cliffs towards forever.
In a world where these images are available at our fingertips, I had forgotten how different it was in real life. Not many people have the opportunity to get off their phones and put themselves completely in actual nature – not the Thneadville kind, and not the storying-it-in-real-time-for-followers kind.
It took me a long time to get to a national park, but I’m not waiting long to hit up another – taking my kids with me, or maybe even going solo. If you haven’t had the experience, I highly recommend it. With the chaos of the last two years, the divisiveness in politics and our communities, and the constant inundation of media and images, sometimes you just need to walk out in nature and remind yourself of the important things: the stars, the trees, and the humbling mountains of God’s country.
Sometimes, you need to shut the desktop and just walk out into it.