Friday, August 14, 2009

The Road Less Traveled... in Joshua Tree

One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken.

The final stanza reads:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I like to take roads less traveled by. I've done it locally and not so locally. I've done it recently, and I've done it for years.

Once, while camping in Sequoia National Park, I took my pre-teen kids on a ranger led hike on Morro Rock. It was a pre-scheduled, published opportunity for park visitors to go a bit deeper into their visit to the park. The only ones who showed up for this free opportunity were my family and me.

The park ranger, a certified naturalist, did his duty and informed us. One thing he said that left an impression was this, "The average visitor to Sequoia stays for four hours."

What? As if a drive-through, a stop at the gift store, and a short walk on the paved path to General Sherman constitutes a visit? Sad, but true.

We took short two-hour type of hikes. We went to the ranger led camp fires. My kids earned their junior ranger badges. (We camped in a park cabin with a canvas roof and a wood burning stove for cooking.)

Some would say, "That's hardly 'the road less traveled'!" But I'd disagree.

Once we were more than 1/2 mile from any trail head, we were pretty much alone. It wasn't necessary to go wilderness camping, we just needed to go a bit deeper off the main path. Sometimes we were in a crowd, but it was a small crowd.

In the movie, "Out of Africa," Denys says, "I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live. Don't ask me to do that. I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life."

Denys took the road less traveled. He practiced non-conformity. One of Denys' critics said, "He likes giving gifts... but not at Christmas." (Go Denys!)

I like to live somewhat creatively. I like roads, but I like back roads, less traveled roads. They seem more interesting and more out-of-the-ordinary.

So, when my wife recently suggested a vacation away from home, I looked a bit off the beaten path. We went "camping" at a condo in Indio. (Indio is not Palm Springs. It's 20 miles east.)

I've done tent camping. I've slept under a bush by a river. I've slept at the bottom of a freeway embankment. Now days, I camp at timeshares. (I find that my wife is more prone to go camping with me, if I stay away from tents.) Adventure doesn't require a tent.

Summer is vacation time for many people. Roads are full. Parks are full. Space is limited, except for... off the beaten path. Summer in the Palm Springs/Indio area is off-season: it's hot. We knew that, but reserved a unit anyway.

The Southwestern US has experienced a population influx since the 1950's. Why? Because of the wide-spread availability of air-conditioning! A/C makes living in the desert very do-able.

I bought my first air-conditioned car in '97! I'm a bit slow, but Wow! Car travel is less sweaty now. Especially when driving into the desert in the middle of summer.

We headed to Indio, which is about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, into the heat (100's). It was great! Our unit was nice, but we were only there at night. By day... we did road trips -- back road trips.

Day One: we visited the eastern end of Joshua Tree National Park. (A park less traveled.) We did a short half mile hike to an oasis. (We saw five people.) We stopped by all the road-side exhibit signs. (Usually, we read them from the air-conditioned car.) We took all the small paved roads off the main road. We hiked the short hike to the vista point at Keyes.

The eastern end of Joshua Tree is less spectacular than the western end. We knew that. That's why we were there: slightly off-center. We saw Octillos, Chollos, and yuccas. After a half day in the eastern end of the park, we drove straight through and out of the western end. We headed "home" to our condo. It was 50 miles or so from the park entrance.

We grocery shopped at Fresh and Easy and dined royally at home, loaded the dishwasher, played some tile rummy, watched some cable TV in our air-conditioned unit, and flopped into our comfy bed. Ahhh... this is camping!

Enjoy the pics!

(Next time... Day Two: Maintained dirt roads in Joshua Tree.)


  1. Don, you read my mind! I was planning to blog a post about my experiences this summer, so look for it soon!

    That lien by Robert Frost is one of my favs too

  2. "I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live. Don't ask me to do that. I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life." amazing quote.

    I love watching, via blog, your road-less-traveled life. It's encouraging to me. Whether it's hiking in the desert or enjoying the time it takes to build a fence, it's encouraging.

  3. @it_all_good: Your road less traveled took you to India and the Taj Mahal. I do want to read and see a bit of your adventure!

    @Chase: Back at ya. "I love watching, via blog, your road-less-traveled life. It's encouraging to me." (Some movie lines resonate and help distill our beliefs. Some songs too, including some great Christian ones.)

  4. Hi Don. :)

    You've inspired a new blog post from me. No telling how long it will take to actually post it, but, who's timing me, right?

    There's a lot that can be said about the average tourist's take on some of the world's more out of the way, less postcard-y spots. What are they really looking for? An experience, or just to say they went? Which would mean more to them in the long run, and which would mean more to friend who like to ooh and ahh over 'fast food' excursions?

    Anyway. I'll spare you the rest, for now.

    Yes, I am broke even though I took a vacation. I didn't have to stay at a hotel, and we ate at home a lot. Of the locales we visited, very few required a fee to get in. (That's what happens when you're content with going off the beaten path) There are plenty of ways to go on a wonderful trip and not break the bank you don't even have to begin with!

  5. @Saphron: Thanks for the comment. "Fast food excursions," good phrase. I think you've hit upon a good topic: the many purposes of travel. Depending on the purpose, you don't have to break the bank (or run up the credit cards.) Exploration, discovery, interest... these are some of the lures of travel, whether the trip be distant or in your own back yard.