Camping in Joshua Tree, aka Dealing with my (ongoing) Quarter Life Crisis

in #outdoors3 years ago

(adapted from my off-steemit blog here)

Hello everyone! Strap in, because this is a long one!

To be honest, it’s been a crazy past two weeks. Mid-terms, shootings, fires… the country, and California in particular, are really going through it. But I guess all of 2018 has been putting all of us through it.

For myself, on a personal level, the past two weeks have been chaotic and hectic as well. My boyfriend and I broke up for the second time. I’ve been dealing with my own low mental health and head-space. And of course the stress of being sort-of self-employed/mostly unemployed, financial instability, life in general, the political environment, the future, and the fact that I think someone grabbed a hold of my old address and my SSN and keeps trying to take loans out in my name…. I keep receiving all the rejection letters from the banks in the mail which is good, but I’m concerned on how that reflects on my credit score… Time to give the IRS another call.

I joked earlier this year that I was going through my quarter life crisis, but honestly… it’s true and I’m still going through it lmao. It sucks most of the time, but I keep telling myself that maybe all this hectic-ness now means that my 30s and 40s will be chill af until I hit my inevitable mid-life crisis at 54, but by then I’m hoping it’s just a case of empty-nest syndrome, and that it’ll just be a year of adjusting to everything followed by many years of self-discovery and traveling and blossoming into the peak middle-aged woman I was always meant to be… or at least that’s what I’m planning for my quarter life crisis. As if you can plan a quarter life crisis lol.

A week after the breakup was my solo camping trip to Joshua Tree. I had actually planned this prior to shit really going down, as a solo trip as well, but now I had to go through with it, emotions in tow. Didn’t help that literally the night before he came over to drop off some things and we had a very emotional goodbye. The closure was nice, but the emotional toll…. that was a rough night for me. As for the camping itself, this would be my first time going solo. The last time I’d gone camping was in college during a backpacking class, and before that it was as a kid with my family. I had to practice setting up my tent to make sure I could do it unassisted. I knew I’d wanted to go camping for a while, but it was intimidating, and difficult to convince my friends or commit to a get-together. So finally I decided to just do it by myself. It was a nerve-wracking decision, one that went against my budget and safety protocols (I spent several days googling mountain lions because I was terrified I’d encounter one), but I was determined to see it through. Camping, hiking, and painting. That was all I wanted.

The morning after I felt like I was on autopilot. I forced myself to wake up early, and by early I mean 8-9 am, which was a Herculean task because up to then my sleep schedule was to fall asleep around 4 or 5 am and wake up no earlier than 12:30, usually 1 PM. It was terrible. So with my groggy self operating on around 4 hours of sleep, I had my task list and set to work. Pack. Load the car. Drop off my ballot and library books. Deal with the police officer who said I made a right turn on a “no right on red” zone when I definitely waited for the green arrow. Print out my camping reservation just in case the confirmation I got in the email didn’t work. Make a finally grocery trip for snacks and water. And then FINALLY get on the road… about an hour later than I intended. But, still achieved it!

About 3 hours later, I finally arrived at Joshua Tree, just in time to catch the sunset. And wow what a sunset.

That night, laying in my tent in my sleeping back on my air mattress (surrounded by another air mattress and a sleeping bag mat because I want my tent to be as comfortable as possible) I remembered feeling a sense of calm. I was alone, but it was okay. It was windy and the tent walls would flap in and out and I’d get worried about something flying off, but it was still okay. I remembered being so stressed about mountain lions, but even that didn’t matter anymore. It was just nice to bundle up and lay there. I went to bed before 10 pm and actually fell asleep for the first time in a while.

(not mentioned: having to call my bank because somebody tried to add me as a spouse and dealing with that. also i woke up 3 times because the campers next door were talking very loudly AFTER HOURS)

The next morning I actually woke up before 6 am… because the light was coming into my tent. I actually wake up better when it’s a gradual light change. No need for an alarm, it just happens, which I’m sure is how humans are wired to wake up anyways. I was a little tired, but I convinced myself to go out so we could watch the sunrise, something I haven’t done in forever due to my proclivity to just sleep in. So I bundled myself up in double-layered everything and ventured out.

There were a couple other campers going for their pre-sunrise walk, but it was mostly quiet. I walked around the campsite, trying to find a good vantage point. It was already really pretty from the get-go. Eventually I found a rock with a relatively uninterrupted view of the mountains the sun would be peeking over, and I started snapping photos. I also saw a family of coyotes walking around, which was nuts.

It was cold, but quiet, and serene to watch. I didn’t mind being alone in that moment.

Afterwards, I got ready for the day! Finally I’d be going into the park. I’d wanted to see Joshua Tree since I moved to LA four years ago, and it was finally happening. I wanted to take it all in, so I drove a little slower which was a problem because the speed limit starts off at a hardy 50 mph on a 2 lane road and there were ppl behind me revving to GO.

Eventually I took enough photo stops that I was able to drive without the pressure of someone tailgating me.

On the advice of the very helpful park ranger I talked to that morning, I decided to do a basic drive-through of the park, hitting a few small hikes along the way. First stop was Hidden Valley, with a nice, pretty easy 1-mile hike.

When I saw the couple dozen cars parked, despite it being a Tuesday, I felt much more secure in not having to worry about mountain lions anymore. The park ranger also didn’t mention it, even when I told her I was by myself. If they’re not worried, I shouldn’t be worried, right?

So with my backpack filled with a freshly bought first-aid kit, enough water for a 6 mile hike, tons of snacks and my travel painting kit, I set off (freshly slathered in sunscreen of course).

I figure it’s easier to just show for this part, since telling can’t really do it justice.

On the return, I picked a spot close to the entrance of the hike and painted a quick sketch of the view.

It was a little difficult to get a good picture with the colors, since the sun was almost directly above by this point (11 am).

Feeling satisfied with one painting and one hike under my belt, I set off.

Initially my plan was to hit Barker Dam, but I realized with the rest of the driving I had to do, and the somewhat out of the way Cholla Cactus Garden that I really wanted to see, that I would still be trying to see things after sunset, which I wanted to avoid. So I postponed Barker Dam for tomorrow and continued driving.

The next stop was Keys View. I actually thought this would be a hike, which contributed to my decision regarding Barker Dam, but turns out it was just a vista! I took some photos, and partook in a bravery test by going off the pavement towards a series of small rock towers insinuating that others had done what I was doing and survived. I took some photos closer to the edge and then scurried back to my car, feeling quite proud of myself.

Next up was Skull Rock over by the Jumbo Rocks. It’s crazy how quickly the scenery can change. For a desert, the landscape is very diverse! Hidden valley boulders and rock formations looked very chiseled, or haphazard. Like someone tried to stack and cram as many rocks as possible on top of each other. But Jumbo Rocks had a much smoother look to their boulders.

There was a hike at Skull Rock, but I decided not to do it in favor of getting to the cacti on time. My painting proved to be quite popular, as I received a few comments from passerbys, with two people asking if they could take a photo. I don’t know if the painting turned out exactly like I wanted, but for a quick sketch I was okay with it. Not only was Skull Rock accurately named, but it reminded me of the Giant Warriors from Nausicaa. If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it! One of my favorites from Miyazaki.

I should also note that Joshua Tree National Park is also extremely well-named, and somewhat lazily, in that there are Joshua trees EVERYWHERE. LITERALLY.

Finally it was time to visit this cactus garden I had shuffled my entire schedule around! It was really out of the ways, very south, towards the complete opposite end of the park. The park is huge, so this is quite a distance. I arrived around 3, when the sun was starting to enter sunset mode (it sets around 4:40 nowadays due to daylight savings ending). The drive over was interesting, in that as you got closer to the garden the Joshua trees started to disappear, and the Cholla cacti would pop up here and there. Maybe a dozen or so. And then suddenly you’d cross a threshold and BAM they were all over the place! Like a video game that didn’t smoothly transition its different terrain maps. It was very jarring.

But the cactus garden itself was very cool. I liked their funky little gradients, and the interesting skeletal remains of the dead plants. I was a little stressed on the behalf of others since so many people strayed off the path to take better pictures, despite several warnings saying NOT to do so and that the cactus spines are very dangerous and difficult to remove… They’re often called “jumping cholla” because of how easy it is to get them stuck to you… These things also have microscopic barbs ON the spine, which makes removal really painful.

Here’s a video of Coyote Peterson from Brave Wilderness getting completely covered in them.

So yeah. I was blown away that people would read that and STILL get closer to these things. I guess I can’t really talk since I did go off the pavement earlier, but like. I KNEW what I was DOING I was not STANDING ON THE EDGE. IT’S DIFFERENT.

Anyways. Enjoy some pictures!

Afterwards I drove up towards the Oasis of Mara and took a nice pleasant walk where I enjoyed bird and rabbit sightings as well as the return of internet.

I also made some purchases at the gift shop… is this similar to when I dropped a lot of cash at Wonder Con earlier this year, also reeling from the throes of QLC? Perhaps. There might be a trend here…

I drove back to my tent under the sunset again. Here I partook in yet another bravery test. Using my gas stove to cook ramen! You might not think that’s a big deal, but I was paranoid of gas leaks or the entire thing exploding in my face. I had actually bought the stove almost 4 years ago when I still worked food service/retail at a mall, and I bought the butane canisters a year after that, and just NEVER USED THEM. The entire conceit of purchasing them was so I could cook ramen on top of a mountain after hiking (something my family did when I was younger), but I never went hiking on a mountain, and I never tested the stove out… until now. With a lantern nearby since it was now completely dark, I loaded the gas and got cooking. Unfortunately the only ramen I had was the cheap beef-flavored top ramen I bought for my Halloween costume (I was a microwave) but! It still tasted fine! And I cannot wait to use it with my top-notch Shin ramen. I did get a little scared because the flame would sometimes be larger than the actual pot (I was using those smaller camp-specific pots) and I was paranoid that the breeze might blow a flame over and start a fire, so I had the setting on lower which meant the water took forever to boil. It also started making effort noises the longer I cooked? Not sure what that’s about it… Either way, there was no incident, and I ate my ramen content.

Later, bundled in my tent again, I remembered a conversation I overheard at the gift shop and got the crazy idea to go star-gazing that night. There was a new moon, and even though I could see stars and the Milky Way from my campsite, I figured a place with even LESS light would provide an even better viewing… plus when else would this opportunity arrive? Since Joshua Tree is open 24/7 (the hikes close at sunset but the park is open!) I decided to go for it. I made a quick stop at 7/11 for taquitos and gloves, and headed over. I knew that the southern part of the park had the best viewing, so I decided to drive to the cactus gardens again since a) I didn’t want to drive THAT far, and b) I figured mountain lions would be put off by the cacti and not be near the area. I informed a couple friends of my plan in case of any emergencies, and set off.

When I got there, there was already someone trying to take star photos and playing music, so I felt safer immediately. Car off, I hopped onto the hood of my car and took everything in. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many stars, and the Milky Way was even more brilliant. It was almost off-putting that the sky wasn’t completely one color like I was used to. I played around with my phone settings for longer exposure and managed to take a couple photos with stars present, but nothing that does the skies justice.

I star-gazed for about half an hour and saw four shooting stars before deciding to head back. On the way I noticed these lily-like flowers by the side of the road. I had seen a few of them earlier that day, only about half in bloom, but these all looked completely in bloom, and I knew I had to snap a picture. If anyone knows what kind of plant these are, let me know!

I was in bed before midnight, and slept soundly into the next morning.

The next day was my last day. Didn’t wake up to see the sunrise, so I slept in until the very late hour of 7 am lol. Then I set to taking down my tent. Before I completely packed it away, I set up my music stand (yep) to use as an easel and decided to paint my campsite.

I actually like how I made the semi-transparency of the tent work. Quite proud of that. Apparently one of the other campers was watching, since he came over to ask if I was painting after I’d finished.

Also, how could I forget the most amazing photo I ever took??

I talked to the dog owner earlier. She’s 18 years old, deaf, and nearly blind. Was very tentative at first but once she realized my hand was connected to a person, she leaned her little head in for pets! Her owner is an older gentleman, retired, and he showed me his old tent (from 1971) and his 100 year old car, which still runs! He drove it out of the campsite later. I asked for a photo by his car and he let me hold his dog (though he advised against actually picking her up since, in his words, she was smelly and had incontinence problems) while he took the picture.

Everything packed up, I headed into Joshua Tree one last time to hike Barker Dam. And I am so glad I did. Another relatively easy hike, flat for much of it until you get to the actual water. It was like a mini oasis. I searched for a good spot to paint and set to it. I actually spent a bit more time on this one than my previous sketches, and was probably painting for a good hour. For a few minutes there was a young family nearby, and every so often someone would walk by. But there were also moments of complete silence, which was cool but also a bit scary, because that was when thoughts of mountain lions returned hahaha. But I like how the painting turned out, and I’m glad I took the time for it.

You may notice my paintings aren’t inked, but rather outlined in pencil. I liked the softer look, and was afraid the bold black lines would take away from it. Plus I wanted to try something a little different.

With that done, I headed back to LA! Traffic became terrible since I was coming in around 5:30-6 PM on a weekday, but I made it out alive and stopped by my friend’s place for a quick shower before heading over to dinner with a few more friends, sporting the new hoodie I’d bought from the gift shop lol. I’m one of those buy in the store, wear out of the store types of people, so no shame.

And that was pretty much my trip! First solo camping trip, first time in Joshua Tree. And I think it was a big success. I’ll admit, there were times when I wondered what it’d be like to have someone else there with me. And other times when I just missed my ex. But, as cheesy as it may sound, the beauty of the desert really did help take my mind off things. I’d get so wrapped up in taking a photo or painting or just enjoying the nature, that for some time I’d forget all the things that were bothering me. I know it’s very “new-age” and “basic” to say that the desert or going out in nature is good for the soul and cleansing and all that, but for me…. it did feel like that hahahaha. I’m sure a lot of that stems from my childhood, the camping and roadtrips we did, and how I’ve always liked nature and animals, even as a kid. I wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of getting dirty, or getting too close with dangerous animals, or even not so dangerous animals, but National Parks and observing wildlife from a safe distance and easy-going hiking has always been something I enjoyed. Add painting to that, and there’s my happy place.

I guess in a way it’s similar to what I liked so much about Hawaii. Enjoying the environment, taking it on your own schedule, experiencing the scenery, and painting the memories you want to remember. Joshua Tree has a distinctly different ecosystem, but the key elements are all there. Being in both places was cathartic, and is motivating enough that I want to keep experiencing that and going out on hikes and short camping trips to paint and see National Parks. Sometimes I think I get caught up in the politics and culture and social aspects of the US, and on a smaller scale, the people and relationships I have, the monetary and material aspects of my life. But nature and the environment are such bigger things, and have always been there (and hopefully will continue to be there, even when we aren’t). Nature doesn’t care if you just broke up with the same person twice. The stars don’t care that you don’t have a traditional 9-5 job. The desert doesn’t care how you paint it. It’s just there, and it exists, and you take from that existence however you see fit (but like, don’t actually take anything from the park, that’s illegal.)

In a way it’s cold and distant, and makes you feel like you don’t matter and you’re really just one person, which can be lonely. But in another way, it reassures you that you’re in charge. You choose how to live your life, and you choose how to take meaning from it. I remembered thinking that I had never felt more independent than when I was camping. I’d never felt more like an adult, or more on top of my shit, than this trip. It was freeing not having to depend on anyone, or have anyone depend on you. It was nice to just set your own schedule, and more importantly your own pace, without worrying if that was okay or not. And while I’m not going to hermit myself away in a cave, and I’m still struggling and working through my emotions and self-love and what I want out of life and all that, it was still a nice feeling, and I think a step in the right direction for me.

I won’t say that camping is the solution and that everyone should go camping, or that camping is right for everybody. But I do think that maybe it’s right for me. At least until I have that one bad experience with a bear or cougar.

PS: Thank you Joshua Tree for fixing my sleep schedule. I know go to bed by midnight and wake up naturally between 7-8 AM #blessed

(also I took way more photos than this, so if you want to see more, follow my personal ig handle, "yesanothernerd")

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I have to give you a lot of credit. You made a plan and followed through with it and despite all the things you had going on in your life you set out and accomplished the plan. The paintings were absolutely beautiful and I think you are right, camping and the outdoors is for you.

thank you. in a way, it was a way for me to take control back of my life hahaha. Do something for myself. I'm glad you enjoyed the paintings! I'm looking forward to spending more time outdoors.

Good for you, just do it. The outdoors is calling you.

What an epic post haha! But absolutely agree with you, there is nothing like being out in nature to put all your problems in perspective and come back feeling new. Hope you're in a better mind now and crack on with your life, it's too short to be miserable!

P.S. you're a really talented painter, love what you have drawn and shared with us today - thanks for inviting us in to your life :)

omg sorry for late reply. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the read, even if it was a bit long! I have to say, even though it's been nearly two weeks since my trip, and I've had some hard days, I've continued going out and about and I honestly do feel better. It's like you said, life is too short to be miserable!

I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing! Camping out really gives me a 'reset' too.

Such a wonderful read. I am so happy for your first solo camping trip, and I really enjoyed your paintings and photos. I can't get enough hiking and camping and riding around in the middle of nowhere, it's when I feel the most free, alive, and blissed out!!!

Thank you for reading all of it and enjoying the paintings! I absolutely agree, I feel so independent when I'm out solo in nature!

The camping looks like it was fun and I love the scenery! Sucks you are still in your quarter life crisis but do you ever truly get out of it? ;)

hahahah I hope so!! For my sake! lololol. At least give me a breather until the mid-life crisis kicks in lmao

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Hey @corinneiskorean

I'm sorry to hear about your break up and how much it has affected you. Hopefully the trip has gone someway to taking your mind off of it and putting you in a better place.

Your photos are awesome and the terrain is incredible. Although I have never been I have always had a fascination with the place ever since U2 had a picture on The Joshua Tree album.

I really like your artwork too. Very cool.

Hang in there.


Thank you so much. I think the trip helped kickstart the healing process. It'll be a while, but I can tell I'm doing better.

I didn't know U2 had a Jtree album! I'll have to check it out. It is really beautiful there and there's so much I still haven't seen. Highly recommend a visit!

U2's Joshua Tree is arguably my favourite album of all time. Every single track for me is special. I hope you enjoy it.

I would love to visit there one day.

Awesome!! I love J-Tree. I'm planning to do some backpacking out there this winter with a buddy of mine. The plant with lily-like flowers is Jimsonweed. Barker dam had some water! That's cool, I've only been there when it was dry. Congrats on surviving your first solo camping trip!!

ooo thanks for letting me know! And ah, I didn't know Barker dam dries out! I have a hunch it's because of the rain earlier in the month, since they'd had warnings that Cottonwood was flooded on the website (it wasn't when I was there). I can't wait to go again, maybe in the spring this time to see flowers?

Congratulations, your post won 1st place in this weeks 'Show us Your California' contest!

ahhh thank you so much!!!

You're really are a very thoughtful person, Corinne, and .... really a great blogger :) This IS long, but it is easy to read and the photos are wonderful :)

I have not gone camping myself in the past 400 years but I can kind of feel that this has been a good chance for you to reboot :) Even if the rebooted Corinne still returns to Quarter Life crisis.... (hahaha)

Anyway, I enjoyed reading this <3

aww thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes, definitely was like a reset, and opened the doors to more nature outings! (coming soon lol). <3

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I just posted Joshua Tree photos this week too, for the Boulder Sunday challenge. I loved seeing your photos and your art work is great. BRAVO for overcoming your fears and going camping alone! You will be able to conquer anything now!

I took a look, your sunset photo is unreal!! Makes me miss seeing it in person hahaha. Thank you so much, and yes! Hoping to live without limitations :D

I do admire you! If I could go back and change one thing about my life it would be that!

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