High style in the high desert

Joshua trees beckon desert adventurers.

Joshua Tree-From the Rattler, a specialty food and high desert deli outpost off Highway 62, which has folks standing in line waiting to order Forbidden Rice (made with vegetables and Himalayan rice), is the last delicacy you would expect on the way to the 794,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park. Then there is the Integraton, a $7 sandwich filled with roasted red peppers, herbed goat cheese spread and a thyme-shallot-mayo spread. It is named after a quixotic white sphere (George Van Tassel’s “Interplanetary Airport”) near Gublers Orchid Ranch in Landers (another off-the-beaten-path attraction along Highway 62). You get the picture; the communities of Highway 62/29 Palms Highway are a world unto themselves. You just never know what you’re going to discover over the hill around the bend. The Joshua Tree Music Festival that took place May 7-9 is a case in point. This three-day music festival staged at the Joshua Tree Lake RV Campground featured performers such as JB and The Rebellion, Blane Lyon and the Goddess Support team, and the Mojoi Roots Posse.

As for the town’s namesake, the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is a giant member of the lily family. It was named, so the story goes, by Mormon settlers. This was because the tree reminded them of Joshua, a biblical figure, with limbs outstretched. After seeing the trees in this pose of supplication, they likened it to a symbol guiding travelers westward. The trees seem undisciplined at first, as they reach toward the sky. Their dagger-shaped dark leaves seem foreboding at first, but they made terrific baskets for American Indians, and the flower buds and raw roasted seeds were thought to be a healthy snack

Today, Joshua trees make their appearance on both sides of 29 Palms Highway, giving this scene ample drama to keep cameras clicking and digitals dancing. More than 2 million visitors from around the world visit the Joshua Tree National Park each year, enchanted by clean air and star-filled skies. Artists are flocking here, enjoying the peace and serenity.

One such local resident, photographer Drew Kaufman, has captured the drama of this high desert scenery to perfection. He exhibits his artistry at his gallery, Spin and Margie’s Trading Post, along with clever greeting cards reminiscent of yesteryear and coasters with images of the high desert landscape. Then there are teapots in the shape of monkeys and turtles, and other outlandish gifts, from old highway signs to delicate beaded bracelets, and the work of local artists.

Just a few steps down the way is the aforementioned Rattler, where park goers can stock up with picnics with panache for their excursion to Joshua Tree National Park.

Park goers should know the headquarters is in the city of Twentynine Palms at 74485 National Park Drive, where the main Visitor’s Center Museum operates exhibits and botanical displays. The phone number is 760.367.7511. The west entrance, the one closest to the Rattler and Spin & Margie’s, is reached via Park Boulevard, which is the center of the Village of Joshua Tree.

It’s the gigantic rocks that attract climbers from around the world, with the winter season being the busiest.

One of the more original places to stay in these parts is Spin and Margie’s Desert Hide-a-Way, where four haciendas, all enclosed by a courtyard, offer as many amenities as a Ritz Carlton. You might say it’s the Ritz (high desert style) without the glitz.

To name a few unexpected touches: a morning breakfast goodies basket, magnificent tiled bathrooms (Mindy Kaufman, the owner-artist is the responsible party), queen beds and sofa futon sleepers, and cable TV/VCR with a terrific video library await guests.

For those who are more serious about the high desert, check out the Desert Institute, the educational branch of the nonprofit Joshua Tree National Park Association. It offers classes such as Yoga for Hikers and Backpackers, photographing the Joshua Tree Landscape and Wildflower Wanderings. For the more adventureous, there is a Basic Desert Survival class. And for the more sensitive, there is the Plein Air Poetry. In other words, there is something for everyone.

Course fees range from $45 to $200.

For more information contact 760.367.5536, www.joshuatree.org or e-mail desertinstitute@zippnet.net.

Contact information:

_ Spin and Margie’s Desert Hide-a-Way, 760.366.9124 www.deserthideaway.com

__Spin and Margie’s Trading Post, 61731 29 Palms Highway, Joshua Tree 92252, 760.366.3195

__Rattler, 61705 29 Palms Highway, Joshaua Tree 92252, 760.366.1898

__Ranger programs at Joshua Tree National Park 760.367.5555

__Joshua Tree information, 760.366.372k


Pam Price is the co-author of “Fun with the Family in Southern CA,” published by the Globe Pequot Press ( www.globepequot.com).