Joshua Tree

I wake up to flicking and buzzing. Our road map's pages are flapping in the cross breeze blowing through the van's driver's side window, and a yucca moth, drunk on sunlight, beats against the windshield. While Hobbs sleeps, I perch inside the van's steps to avoid the wind and sit quietly: my adopted term for meditation, a daily practice I've been doing for three months, inhaling its silent, wise, anesthetic effects. 

We're on the road by 8:30. The desert's enormous sun, set against the even more enormous blue dome of sky, has begun to burn away the night's chill. Our plan is to see Joshua Tree in morning, and then drive 200 miles through the Mojave to Las Vegas, where a plush bed, a steam shower, and reservations at Giada await us at The Cromwell. 

We stop at the southern ranger station for running water and flush toilets before blazing on through the park's only paved road. Joshua Tree, while lacking the usual jaw-dropping, monumental National Park attractions of Grand Canyon or Yosemite, lends its own kind of otherworldly enchantment.

The desert's horizon is everywhere you look, offering something that no forest or tree-lined valley can: distance. Hallucinatory effects tease the eyes with vast swaths of land, any remnants of civilization have long evaporated, and the haggard vegetation looks like the botanical lovechild of Dr. Seuss and Timothy Leary. The stunted and dangerous Teddybear Cholla drops double-barbed offspring, the creosote bush fends off competitors by creating its own herbicide, and the Seussian Ocotillo cactus, which isn't even a true cactus, disguises itself as one of this desert's only deciduous trees. 

But in this strange and foreboding climate exists a feverish, enduring love story. Each spring, yucca moths emerge from the ground to mate and lay eggs in the Joshua trees' sticky flowers. Attracted by the blooms’ penetrating odor, the moths are the Joshua trees' heroic saviors, deliberately pollenating the trees to produce the seeds that will eventually feed their larvae. 

Equally dependent, equally endangered, each species’ future depends entirely on the other. Charles Darwin labeled the symbiotic relationship between yucca moth and Joshua tree as one of the most remarkable pollination systems in nature. "There is no romance more dire and pure than that of the desert moth and the Joshua," he wrote. 

By noon, we're rumbling through the Mojave National Preserve. The valley, wide and flat, is full of sand - eons of pulverized time lying below sea level, waiting patiently to be the next vast ocean's floor. The road is rough, a patchwork series of haphazard repairs, and signs of life are few and far between. By nightfall, we're seated at our candlelit table overlooking the pulsating Vegas Strip, looking clean-clothed and first-world, toasting to the difference 24 hours can make.