High Desert Spirituality
Joshua Tree, California is a small town in the high desert north of Palm Springs. Like Mount Shasta, the new age aspects of the area spread beyond the town, in this case into the Joshua Tree National Park and surrounding desert. Many organizations, spiritual and otherwise, venture into the Joshua Tree area for retreats. It’s rural, remote, rocky and sits above an aquifer. It is possible to remove yourself, or you and a group, from the bustle of society.
Joshua Tree is located in a high desert, at about 2500 feet. The area shares some characteristics with Taos, but with higher average temperatures. Highs in the summers can reach into the 110’s and lows in the winter into the thirties. The average high in July and August is about 100, and they have been known to receive snow. It’s rare, but it happens.
With total precipitation of around 5 inches per year, and dropping, the community is well aware of the preciousness of clean water. There is active support for 350.org [LINK], a group focused on bringing the CO2 level back down to 350 parts per million, as well as for the Joshua Tree-Huggers Network [FB Link] with a more local focus. You can find them Tuesdays at the corner of Park and the Twentynine Palms Highway raising awareness of environmental change.
The Three Towns
There are three high desert towns on the plateau above Palm Springs. The first is Yucca Valley, and it’s the biggest. There’s a Walmart there, a Home Depot, and a larger number of conveniences.
The second along the road is Joshua Tree and at the end is Twentynine Palms. Twentynine Palms is the location of the largest, by land, Marine Corp base in the United States. It’s where most of the desert training exercises are. The odds are high that you’ll see at least some sort of convoy driving by during your visit.
There is also the area of Landers, a village out the outskirts of Joshua Tree and the location of the Integratron.
No Longer a Secret
While you can still find sandy roads that appear to lead to Nowhere, it is becoming more and more difficult to find true isolation. Five years ago the visitation to the Joshua Tree National Park was about 1 million. In 2016 visitation is expected to reach 2.5 million. That increase has contributed to an increase in regional population. In 1992 the water district of Twenty-nine Palms began drawing water from the aquifer. The oasis in the park has begun to dry up, with water only pooling after storms.
In general, the stretch from Jucca Valley to Twentynine Palms is a sprawl of lightly populated desert land, with the new age, artistic vibe centered in Joshua Tree. Sprawl is relative, of course. If you’re coming from L.A. or New York, it’s wide open space. Of course, the satellites can find you.
Joshua Tree National Park
Climbers continue to flock to the park, and the park service even has a sub-site dedicated to the activity. [LINK] Climbers are known to work the camping system, staying for two weeks, leaving for a day and returning. Swapping sites and sharing is also common.
If you’ve seen beautiful pictures of large rocks jutting majestically from the desert sand, they’ve probably been taken from within the park. The north side of the highway is more desolate and less colorful.