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Joshua Tree

State of Gold: Chapter 2

On the Road in CaliforniaState of Gold
Chapter 1Death Valley
Chapter 2San Luis Obispo
Chapter 3Joshua Tree
Chapter 4San Clemente

Weird & Windy in Joshua Tree

These otherworldly rocks are what brought us to Joshua Tree. It’s a world-famous climbing destination, and we have Ben as our climbing guide. Our group has varying levels of climbing experience. Some of us have lead-climbed trad routes and others will get their first taste of the sport here.

The wind hits overnight.

It’s strong and steady, with intense gusts that shake the tents to the point that I’m afraid they’ll blow away. Nobody sleeps well, and we spend the morning waiting out the wind, thinking that it’ll surely die down. But by noon it’s as strong as ever.

The plan was for Ben and the other experienced climbers to climb some trad and then set up some top rope routes for everyone. But the wind has added a degree of difficulty that Ben’s not comfortable with. We discuss maybe trying to find a sheltered spot to do some bouldering. We even consider leaving, taking an extra day of surfing on the coast.

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But ultimately, we climb.

Being in Joshua Tree without getting at least a little bit of climbing in isn’t what the people in our group are about; they want to make the most of our time here. The sun peeks out, though the wind continues. Given the conditions, Ben opts against trad and sets a top rope for everyone. It’s a crack near the campsite, the base of which is reasonably sheltered.

Cam is the first to climb it, then Rachel, Kyle, and Kate, with everyone taking turns belaying. Ben coaches us through the crux, yelling up locations of holds, giving pointers on how to jam hands and feet into the crack. Some continue climbing through the rest of the afternoon, while others grab bikes and explore. The driving wind doesn’t relent, but we all kind of get used to it. As dusk approaches the sun turns the rock gold and and sky pink. Time to get a campfire going.

It’s my turn to cook.

I get to work on a triple-size batch of Jim Harrison’s meatball recipe. With Cameron’s help, I mince garlic at a picnic table and melt anchovies in the Dutch oven. It feels great to be making favorite recipe outside for this group of people who are sure to appreciate it.

We head out behind the campsite to a bouldering spot—a large boulder in a flat surrounded by trippy-looking Joshua trees spreading out for a mile, relatively protected from the wind by a large rock formation. This is my first time night bouldering. Climbing by headlamp in this crazy and foreign landscape is surreal. We climb all over the rock, everyone getting up an easier route quickly and then find a tougher problem that we work through as a team. While we climb, the crew plays around with long-exposure, light-painting photography.

The wind picks up again in the night.

It’s a relief to pack up camp and get out of it. The weather in Joshua Tree didn’t exactly cooperate, but we made the most of it. And, despite a hesitation to throw around hyperbole, I’d say that Joshua Tree is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, truly unique. I’ll be back, but for now it’s on to this trip’s final destination, something that everyone’s been looking forward to since hitting the road a week ago: the beach.

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