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9 Mar

Finding Wonder Valley, Part I


A couple of years ago, we went to Joshua Tree for the first time. We went on a whim, not knowing what to expect; it was winter holidays, and Kyle had just finished building a teardrop trailer that we were eager to take out camping. We knew that the beach would be cold at night, and that the mountains would be even colder; the desert, on the other hand, is in its high season in winter, the perfect time to visit. We knew almost nothing about the place other than that, and that U2 once recorded an album there. And GPS clocked it as just over two hours drive from our home in greater Los Angeles. Why not?

We went on New Year’s Day,* and it was love at first sight. The light, the sky, the rocks, the palpable sense of timelessness – I loved all of it. From the first moment I looked out over that landscape, I knew: I wanted to hold onto it forever.

What that has meant, in the 2+ years since: haunting real estate listings in the Joshua Tree area on Trulia and Zillow, reading obsessively about the character and the history of the high desert, and dreaming of one day claiming a piece of it for myself. But I didn’t think to actually act upon that dream until a couple of months, after a particularly unique adventure in the high desert made it abundantly, wonderfully clear to me – this is where some of the most important parts of my story are going to unfold. This is where dreams will take shape.

So we engaged a realtor and started searching in earnest. And we found a place.

How we found it and what we’re going to do with it is a story that I’m going to unpack here, in part because I want a documentary record of it, and in part because I think that its going to make for a good story. I don’t mean a good ‘lifestyle’ story – although I do like a good lifestyle story. I mean a story about what attracts people to the high desert and what it looks like to try to carve out a piece of it for yourself (there’s a rich and fascinating history of homesteading in the Southern California high desert that continues to influence the landscape and the culture, but it’s not without its frictions and politics.) It’s a frontier in both the literal and figurative sense, and a meaningful exploration of it in either capacity begs for storytelling. And if it’s a story that just becomes part of family lore, that’s more than enough for me.

*(I love that I’m able to say that it was the very first day of that particular year that I fell in love with the high desert; it was a uniquely difficult year, one of the most difficult of my life, and the fact that it was at the first turn of that year that I found the place that I consider (in a way that I’m still not quite able to adequately explain) home feels right. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, etc. There’s a narrative elegance to it that I’d have probably had to make up if it weren’t true.)