Written by Jiarui Ye
“She could hear the rustle of palm trees somewhere off the road. Since she’d wandered away from college, she prided herself on winding up places where she couldn’t be found or, rather, where no one, especially her parents, would think to look. Until now, she’d never felt lost.” - Ivy Pochoda (A Photo by Jiarui Ye)
In the midst of the harsh desert sun, there is a dry spell in the air. The kind that has a certain mystery behind it. You don’t know what it is until you find yourself searching for the hidden oasis in the middle of nowhere. As a celebration of the newfound high temperatures that signify the beginning of spring, we look towards the flowers, trees, and other domestic plants for the sign of new life. All around Pasadena, students pass the blooming cherry blossom trees while others sneeze away from the surging pollen. However, a few hours away, we see the revival of life in the form of spikey, rough figures of Yucca brevifolia, or more commonly known as, Joshua trees.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I take an unexpected turn to the 210 freeway to avoid the morning travel traffic. As I pass the mountains of Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Duarte, and Glendora, I shift south to the 57, and then the 71, heading deeper and deeper into the center of California. As I move, I notice the population shrinking smaller and smaller, but the heat rising more and more.
This dehydrated landscape and its ever-menacing aura reminds me of the novel, "Wonder Valley" by Ivy Pochoda, as the clear and unpopulated land is nothing similar to the claustrophobic and chaotic Los Angeles center. Within the novel, the depiction of the contrast between congested city life and an uninhabited utopia reminds me of an unnerving enigma as I start my journey. While entering through the city of Twentynine Palms, I am greeted with a throwback to the past century when cowboys and horses roamed the land. The reminisce of old town homes, the country charm, allows me to step back into a world that was less convoluted than the present. Driving in, I pass the mini oasis that holds little-to-no protection from the harsh sun as I see the typical desert animals running around.
The beauty continues down the route as I pass the lands filled with Joshua trees, prickly cacti, and bushes full of spines. I reach the first major tourist spot, where I can see children shouting as they climb on the smooth bouldered rocks, quite in contrast to the rough terrain just nearby. This was Jumbo Rocks, one of the most popular campgrounds where the surroundings were encased by the enormity of sediments. If perhaps you choose to spend the night, and perhaps if the sky is kind, you will see the most spectacular view of the stars at night. If it is any consolation, the boulders surrounding you will provide excellent protection from whatever menaces nearby.
(It should be noted that if you do plan to visit such a place, please wear running shoes. Spikes from bushes and cacti can severely pierce your skin.)
Thirty minutes in and I arrive at the center of all the action where tour buses and family cars are parked as far as the eye can see. This is the attractive area of Hidden Valley where its name alone, shows an indication of what mystery lies within. Its unorthodox setting is the perfect location for misfits of all kinds and acts like a commune of all personalities of the world. Perhaps, everyone is connected, just like the five characters of Ivy Pochoda's novel: Ren, Owen, Blake, Tony, and James, where they settle at this place. The Hidden Valley is the perfect location to connect where the desperation of hope and love is overshadowed by the sun-bleached canvas of nothingness. It is the perfect seclusion from the hectic populous city of Los Angeles. As I look around the dry yet alive landscape, I am amazed by the simplest and warmed tone allure. Even in such a hot-tempered location, life still grows- wildflowers bud and fruit sprout.
This beauty in the middle of nowhere is special. The disconnect from life's daily on-the-go style is welcome here. All personalities live in this desolate yet alive land, just like the search for connection in "Wonder Valley". There is much to do in this dangerous and enchanting park. In the morning, I suggest you take a hike around and search for the plentiful water at the Barker Dam hiking trail. A darker turn can lead you to the mystery of Skull Rock and its many climbing locations. Reminisce with a blast from the past as you walk a few miles and return to the olden days of wooden homes, cattle ranching, mining, and homesteading at Keys Ranch. At night, remember to look up- the heavens light up the sky with millions of stars that are unlike anything you have ever seen.
The mystery of the desert brightens each minute once the sun falls. Suddenly, you find you are encased in the dark sphere with stars glittering about. This is why you have traveled this far - to witness the beauty, the smell the sunflowers, to hike the travels, to find yourself in the middle of no where and soak in everything it has to offer. The dark secret that the wondrous valley possesses is a vision that is both inspiring and daunting. This is the place of mystery- this is the Wonder Valley.
Haven't got enough? Stay tuned for next weeks blog post in this 5 part travel blog series by Jiarui Ye!
Jiarui Ye is a first-year finance and business management major with a passion for travel writing. She says, "When I am not traveling and doing photography, I likes to learn about theology and politics."
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