There’s a rugged beauty to the desert. It blooms and howls and soothes the soul. Nature is far more abundant out there than most people even know. It’s a desert, after all… a place described with words like “harsh,” “barren,” and “wasteland.”
But those of us who feel the call to the arid oasis know that it is so much more.
The desert allows your mind to rest. The stars at night remind you of your place in the Universe. The landscape is alive with alien flora. It feels like a spirit that holds the mysteries of our collective souls. This is why I’m drawn to her… to retreat from my everyday life.
A few days before my birthday, I drove out to Joshua Tree to clear my head and heart and make myself ready for the year about to unfold. I had a lot of clutter to clear out… random thoughts that have been pinging around in my brain long enough… mental movies that I’d been playing back in perpetual loops… thoughts that needed to stop being thought upon. I needed to release my mind of them and I knew it could only be done in the desert. I confessed to friends and to Twitter that I was a little nervous about heading out alone. They probably all assumed I was worried about my safety. I wasn’t. I was worried about what I might hear… what I might have to let go of.
My trip out to to the desert started with a sound bath at the Integratron in Landers just outside of Joshua Tree. This has been on my list for years, which is why I planned my trip around the session I booked. It was the second to last available spot when I made my reservation weeks in advance. I was so excited about it that arrived 90 minutes early, which anyone who knows me will definitely raise an eyebrow about. I’m NEVER early.
I took advantage of the time and toured the property. On site are a cluster of hammocks and several outdoor lounging areas. I sat to have the lunch I packed and sipped a cup of the delicious alkaline water that pumps from a well on site. Afterwards, I meandered around at a slow pace to check out all the sculptures in the garden.
My heart jumped a bit when our time came to enter the Integratron. We entered the lower level, removed our shoes, then one at a time, climbed up the steep ladder to the open space that was resonating with the sounds of the crystal bowls being played. We were invited to take a turn standing in the center of the room and speaking our intention into the ceiling above.
The acoustics in the room create a sound chamber that echos your words right back into your own ears. I whispered my intention to myself… whispered because I was kind of embarrassed to speak it out loud to strangers… yet I heard it so clearly that I turned to the person behind me to see if they had heard my private thoughts. They seemed oblivious. I grabbed a couple of blankets to tuck under my knees for comfort and found a mat to lay on.
We settled in to our resting positions as our sound bath guy… musician… hmmm… not sure what to call him exactly, so let’s go with guide… as our sound bath guide played the white crystal bowls. He began with the history of the place, which includes plans that were given to a man by aliens from Venus and all the wood in the ceiling being donated by the eccentric Howard Hughes. The building was never completed because its creator, George Van Tassel died of a heart attack and the plans mysteriously vanished, presumably whisked away by the Venutians.
It could happen.
The current owners of the Integratron are three sisters that loved going out to Joshua Tree for retreats and wanted to find a place to bring people together to do the same. So they bought the place and made good use of the acoustics in the space by creating sound baths for people to enjoy. When it was time to go deeper, we were given instructions to keep our movements to a minimum, as all sounds resonate throughout the space. We were also asked to help with any snorers, because apparently, falling dead asleep is a side affect of the sound bath.
This was not the case for me.
I was relaxed, but every cell in my body was buzzing. I was aware of the tiniest sensations throughout my body… the weight of my arms, the tingling in my legs, the buzzing even in my eyes. I watched clouds in the windows that were outside, yet seemed inches away from my face. The blue in the sky was more vibrant and tickled my head to stare at. Eventually, our ride came to an end. It wasn’t too soon. It felt perfect. I spoke to the owner on my way out. She seemed delighted to hear about my experience. She is doing the thing she was called to do. That truth radiated from her. I left the building thinking,
I want that.
I left the Integratron with a happy heart and a souvenir tank top and drove over to my accommodations for the next couple of nights. The property was at the edge of Joshua tree where I had reserved a tent. As I drove up to a sweet little bell tent, I thought, “I bought the wrong car.” I wanted a Jeep. I went with a “big girl” car. An older convertible BMW. It was ridiculously out of place on the rustic road. I decided I’d at least enjoy the convertible for the rest of the summer and maybe trade for the Jeep I thought I was getting too old for. I have a lot of bullshit beliefs like that. That was one of the reasons for the trip.
I originally planned to get further away from civilization. I knew I needed to disconnect to tap into the message my higher self needed to hear. But my physical self was kind of dreading laying on the ground in a bag. Even with a mat, I knew I’d be waking up with aching joints. I mean, I’m not 30-something anymore. So when my friend sent the AirBnB link to The Gonzo Tent at Boulders Hideaway, I decided to splurge and treat myself to slightly more comfortable accommodations.
The owners of this property have done a great job thinking of everything. There were even some little extras that were a delightful surprise, like the aloe face mask that I used after a day out hiking in the sun. The only downside is you can still hear the highway off in the distance, which is probably why they placed packets of ear plugs on the nightstand. But if you’re not looking to be completely off the grid, this is a great place to get your glamping on.
After bringing my backpack into the tent, I grabbed my bathing suit and a towel and took advantage of the “pool” next to the tent. The water was warm from the heat of the desert sun. Although I could still hear the sounds of the highway in the distance, the ripples of the water on my skin and the lingering buzz from the sound bath put me in a state of bliss.
Just before sunset, I started a fire and made made myself some dinner, which was a mango jalapeño chicken sausage and a kale and cranberry salad. What? You thought I’d eat chili from a can? I sat in front of the fire as the sky got darker and the stars revealed themselves. After a couple of hours of just chilling out and stargazing, I went to bed.
I slept so well, but my waking thoughts betrayed me. As daylight slowly set the tent aglow, I had this strange sense of guilt about taking this time out for myself. I had to really sit with this. Why is it wrong to take the time to reconnect with your soul? To clear the resistance in your heart and mind? To find peace? I gave myself permission to enjoy my retreat and reluctantly accepted it.
After making myself some coffee, camp-style, I packed my backpack with a towel, some snacks, water, my Canon EOS M50, and my trusty tripod, and drove out to Jumbo Rocks. This was the location I had originally planned to camp. There’s no cell coverage, which was the point of going out to the desert. I needed to disconnect. My campsite was still in cell range, so I had to actually turn off my phone to make myself shut down. But out in Jumbo Rocks, I didn’t have a choice… and that made me so happy.
I walked into the cluster of boulders and tracked around for about five hours. I would see a cluster of boulders that looked interesting and would trek my way over. And then another cluster and another trek. At one point, I stopped for a snack and a chat with God. “What is it I need to hear?” After some time in meditation and contemplation, it was clear.
“It’s okay to forget.”
This has been so hard to do, not just for the last couple of years, but maybe for the last ten. I’ve been keeping certain memories alive because I felt so guilty letting them go and forgetting. Like, if I could just keep remembering, then I could feel less guilt about how I couldn’t save him. I built a memorial in my mind… like those roadside cross and flower menageries that pop up when someone is struck. After a bit of time, some city clean up crew gathers it all up and does whatever… tosses it in the garbage, I guess.
The only one that was going to clear my little mental memorial was me.
I strapped my pack back on and kept hiking. After a bit, I came across an open space that looked like some kind of natural amphitheater. In that place, I found a flat rock that had a natural wall. It was a perfect private spot to lose my tan lines. I laid in the sun for about an hour wearing nothing more than my bucket hat. The only other observers were a family of crows across the way that had a nest in some cave-like spaces between boulders.
After my sun bath, I got dressed and left my pack behind while I climbed the boulders of this amphitheater. I jumped and climbed so much that I forgot how old I was. Nothing hurt and I was laughing out loud to myself. I was breathing in the wind that was blowing stronger the higher up I climbed. I felt so alive and so clear on the message I had received … it’s okay to forget… forget the pain… forget the sadness… forget the loss…
It’s okay to forget and live again.
After about four hours of hiking and resting and intermittently taking pictures of desert blooms, I started making my way back out to the road and to my car. I didn’t really want to leave, but I needed to get back to camp before the sun went down to make my bougie little dinner again. On the way back into town, my phone got a signal and several messages came through. I figured I’d answer them back at camp. Once I arrived, however, I was having a hard time getting a signal. I wouldn’t have cared except that I needed to respond to someone about plans we made for the next day, so I turned the phone off and on again several times.
I finally decided to go back into town to see if maybe I could get a signal. Still nothing. I found a Starbucks (of course) and went in to use their WiFi. I grabbed a little cookie to eat for dessert and told the girl at the register about the trouble I was having with my phone. “AT&T,” she asked. Yes, I answered. “Everyone with AT&T has been having problems,” she told me Apparently, the wind had blown out some local cell towers. I assumed this was my fault because the Universe REALLY wanted me to unplug.
I mean, WHAT ELSE COULD IT HAVE BEEN???
So I went back to camp, had my dinner, watched the sun set and the stars come out, meditated a little more, then went to bed and fell asleep to the whispering of the wind. The next morning, I woke to the sound of raindrops on the canvas tent. It had arrived right on time. “Perfect timing,” I thought. I packed up my stuff and headed to a friend’s house in Yucaipa for a shower and then on to have some fun in LA.
While the camping was more glamping, it was still more rustic than a luxury Airstream. There was no electricity, or stove, or indoor plumbing, so it was definitely more like camping, which was a lot of what I wanted. And like many well-maintained camp sites, there was a very clean porta-potty across the path, so no need to squat in a bush.
All the accoutrement needed to cook outdoors was perfectly placed within the tent, so you can enjoy this camping experience without owning any of the regular camping equipment. And, of course, there’s the comfort of a full size bed, and even some extra blankets in a basket nearby. Boulders Hideaway at JTree is a close drive to the Integratron and not too far of from Jumbo Rocks for some day hiking; both of which I highly recommend. And still close enough to shops should you forget anything important like sunscreen or wine.
It was so nice, I was tempted to stay another night, but those couple of days in Joshua Tree were just the right amount of getaway. I left, promising myself I’d return before my mind got too cluttered again.
Except where noted, all images were taken with my Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera. Images with me in them were taken with the Canon using my favorite feature, Remote Live View Shooting from the Canon app on my phone. Here I am using the feature in action: