The following writing is extracts taken from the above article, which has been published in the Sacramento Bee…great read on Joshua tree.
By Sam McManisfirstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Sunday, Apr. 7, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 1H
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 – 3:00 pm
JOSHUA TREE – Deep in the desert, searching for enlightenment at a spot called Samuelson’s Rocks that is unmarked on any map, all I find are shaggy, gnarled trees that give this area its name, bulbous monzogranite rock formations and the triad of cholla, creosote and prickly pear that scar my legs and test my resolve.
Wait a moment. Did I just say all?
Have I, after a mere four days at Joshua Tree National Park, become so inured of these wondrous surroundings that I have ceased appreciating the geologic and floral delights to be experienced?
Perhaps. And that’s a shame. Because, if a visit to Joshua Tree teaches you nothing else, it should foster an abiding affection for the hidden natural abundance in what the uninitiated may see as a vast and arid open space bereft of possibility.
This connection to the landscape is why the multitudes come to the high desert: to climb and to hike, to camp and worship at nature’s altar, to seek spirituality and artistic inspiration, to trade the claustrophobic city for a bigger piece of sky. I am trying – really, I am – to become such a seeker.
I have trekked deep into the Wonderland of Rocks, where forests of Joshua trees exist peacefully amid mounds of monzonite quartz stacked so precisely, if precariously, that even the staunchest atheist might suspect it as the work of an unseen hand.
I have driven beyond the galleries to the fringes, where “outsider” artists have assembled found-material sculpture “environments” that incorporate the land itself as both canvas and object.
Yes, I have done all that. But here I am on my last morning, wandering in the desert, looking for a small cluster of rocks upon which a Swedish immigrant in the late 1920s named John Samuelson carved philosophic messages.
Somehow, the trip will seem incomplete without finding these stone tablets, even if (or maybe especially because) they were the work of a crank with ideas far outside the mainstream.
Joshua Tree, after all, is that kind of place. It brings out a guy’s contemplative and quirky sides…
Rock legends all around
Don’t even try in a week’s stay to cover all 794,000 acres of Joshua Tree, 70 percent of it designated as wilderness. Instead, pick your spots based on your interest.
Many come to climb the big rocks. The most popular and challenging spots are at Hidden Valley, about 14 miles southeast of the visitors center, with climbs ranging from relatively easy to difficult.
“Hidden Valley is the climbers’ place,” said Gary Chandler, who through Joshua Tree Outfitters sells and rents climbing and camping equipment. “There are hundreds of climbs within walking distance of the campground. The farther you go, you get to what’s known by climbers as the real Hidden Valley – the best climbs.”
Climber Les Walker of Idyllwild had just rappelled down a rock face, preparing to take a group of novices for a session.”Joshua Tree gets some of the world’s best climbers,” he said. “But there also are a lot of great rocks for people just getting into it. You don’t want to have a novice try Intersection or Old Woman first time out.”Hiking, however, is relatively easy for most, provided you bring ample water (yes, even in the early spring, when the temperature hovers just under 80). Trails range from as short at a half-mile to as long as the 37-mile Riding & Hiking Trail that extends from the Black Rock Canyon entrance to the Oasis Entrance.
Many of the trails are flat with soft, sandy surfaces, but some killer climbs await.
Perhaps the most popular route, the Boy Scout Trail, combines flat, sandy stretches and challenging but not lung-busting climbs with views of the Wonderland of Rocks. It’s a 16-mile out-and-back, but many choose to camp along the way and make it an overnight excursion.Hiker Lynne Tremkilbach of Akron, Ohio, chose that option
“I’ve never backcountry-camped before, so of course, I chose to do it by myself in the desert,” she said, laughing. “I camped out last night, and it was wonderful. It’s just so beautiful out here. This is so not Ohio.”
Art blooms in the desert
On a 7 1/2-acre parcel about 5 miles north of town, where the roads cease to be paved and handsome houses give way to shacks that give way to trailers, one of Southern California’s famous “outsider” artists has created a world unlike Ohio or any other state.
It’s called Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and it’s a trip. About 40 art pieces, some as small as a refrigerator, others as massive as a building, dot the landscape. From found metal, burned or decayed wood, old tires and pipes and discarded electronics, the late Purifoy built elaborate, often politically pointed, outdoor sculptures here from 1989 until his death in 2004.
His work has been exhibited at mainstream museums such as the Getty, Whitney, Oakland and California African American museums, but Purifoy had said the proper place for his sculptures is the desert, where the process of decay becomes part of the work.
Installations range from the silly to the sublime, often touching on social issues. One of his more famous works is “Kirby Express,” in which old vacuum cleaners, baby carriages, smudge pots and swamp coolers are affixed to bicycle wheels and placed upon railroad tracks. It represents, according to the Noah Purifoy Foundation, “a symbol of hope and progress for the well-to-do, built by the poor (symbolizing) lost hope and dreams.”
Purifoy’s may be the most famous of the desert’s art installations, but it is far from the only one. Among the pieces belonging under the umbrella organization called “High Desert Test Sites” is Sarah Vanderlip’s piece that welded two aluminum discs together to shine like a crystal egg amid the boulders; Shari Elf’s “Art Queen” gallery in town that features outdoor work, and the kitschy “World Famous Crochet Museum” inside an old Fotomat-type building.
Even some of the hotels are as much art projects as commercial dwellings. “Artists move here, well, maybe because it’s not expensive,” Elf said…..Sometimes, the art pops up at you unexpectedly.
While driving on a dirt road way northwest of Joshua Tree, near the settlement of Pipes Canyon, my eye caught a glint in the desert. I pulled over and followed the shiny light. It was a giant orange arrow, at least 30 feet in height, pointing down into the sand. Next to it was this message, nailed to the post: “You Are Here.” No direction home But I am not there – meaning, I have not yet found Samuelson’s Rocks. The morning has worn on, it’s warming up, and my water bottle is running low.
I was warned it’s not easy to find the rocks – it’s not an official National Park site, so there are no directional signs and no trail – and 45 minutes into my search, I’m getting mighty frustrated.
I try to remember what Chandler, the Joshua Tree Outfitter owner, told me.
“The reason the park won’t tell you is because it’s a private in-holding, but there are a couple of pullouts on the road about two miles from Quail Springs (picnic area),” he said. “Head southwest and you’ll see a dark mound a couple of miles across the desert. It rises about 200 feet. Walk toward that.”
I have done as told, but I’m lost. Three separate rock clumps have proved absent of inscriptions. Somehow, I have gotten turned around. Amid my wanderings, I’ve scraped my knee on a yucca plant and rivulets of blood run down my leg.
I’m just about to admit defeat when I decide to walk another 100 feet and see another rise in the landscape. I squint and spot marks on a boulder. I run through rocks and prickly pear and find them.
There are seven stones with chiseled rants against God and man, Herbert Hoover and Henry Ford, as well as other deep thoughts. It’s akin to 140-character Twitter messages, sans spell-check, from a previous generation.
One of Samuelson’s all-caps ramblings strikes me as relevant, especially to a Joshua Tree visitor. I take out my smartphone and capture it for my screensaver:
STUDY NATURE OBEY THE LAWS OF IT YOU CAN’T GO WRONG
IT PAYES COMPOUND ENTEREST FOR LIFE AND NOT ONE PENNY ENVESTED.