Cross-Country Road Trip // Joshua Tree, California

Old City Java | Knoxville Photographer
 

As I sit in an artsy coffee shop reflecting back to the first destination on my 25-day road trip, I cannot help but be overwhelmed with a crazy amount of emotions. I felt as if I was standing right back at the very spot in Joshua Tree National Park when my heart was flooded with happiness, excitement, and even disbelief at the fact that I was standing in California all alone. "Is this real life?" I thought to myself as I was still trying to come to the realization that I just drove across the entire country over the past few days.

On a Tuesday morning, I embarked on a journey with a set plan but no plans at all. To make sense of that last statement, I had particular stops along the way on this adventure as I had five editorial styled weddings I had designed to photograph, and the first was Joshua Tree. Between these stops would be time to just explore anything and everything I could. Wherever my heart told me to go, wherever I felt the need to sleep, and whatever I had the notion to do, I simply went with it – a simple little kind of free. Sure I had a tentative plan at the beginning of the trip as to where I would sleep each night or the closest campground to where I thought I would make it to. Surprise, outside the two nights at specific campgrounds I booked months before because they sell out and were must-sleeps, not one single night on the entire trip did I sleep where I anticipated.

The first day of the trip I drove all across the state of Tennessee, and I will admit I was nervous as I planned to sleep in a Walmart parking lot because I had learned that is a thing. I could not do it. I had not quite mustered up the courage to pull that one off... Yet. So instead I made it to Little Rock, Arkansas where my aunt's sister lives. An out-of-the-blue phone call from someone you only see on rare occasions asking to sleep in your driveway can leave a person a little confused. As I asked the question knowing she was going to think it was bizarre, and I got the response "Um, no but you can come sleep in my bed!" After explaining what I was doing and that a huge factor in this trip was not to lay my head in an actual bed but rather sleep in my camper-made VW Jetta Sportwagen or my tent, she reluctantly said yes. Within minutes of arriving and not even knocking on the door because it was so late, I passed out and slept like a baby - at least until I got a tap on the window at 6:00 am when her husband needed me to move my car so he could go to work. The next night I realized I was a rockstar and could do the Walmart deal. Sleeping in a parking lot definitely was not the highlight of my trip, but the two nights I did utilize that privilege (thanks to the All Stays app) I was able to rest my head for a few hours on the long-stretch highway as I was just trying to make it across the country.

 
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
 

After making my way across the plains of Oklahoma, through wildfires in Texas, making pit stops at Native American shops in New Mexico, and laying eyes on the beautiful canyons and gorges of Arizona, I stepped foot in the desert lands of California. A beautiful, unique place I had never seen before. The diversity of Joshua Tree is fascinating. Every few miles it was as if I had arrived in a completely new place. The scenery and plants change entirely - from rock-faced mountains and patches of various cacti as you enter the south end near Cottonwood Visitor Center to the astonishing boulders and abundance of renowned Yucca brevifolia (otherwise known as the Joshua tree) in the Northwest part of the park. 

With intentions on camping at White Tank campground within the park, I quickly learned these first-come-first-served sites fill rather quickly. I thought to myself, “Where on Earth am I suppose to sleep for the next two nights as I explore?” Then I discovered the Bureau of Land Management. I ended up spent the majority of the trip resting at night on BLM land that provided either free or $5/night primitive campsites depending on area. This means no toilets, no water...no nothing. In fact there is not any potable water within the park's amenities whatsoever. I had to wait until day six to take my first shower at the Pilot truck stop in Palm Springs. Luckily the caked in dirt from my hikes left my hair looking not the slightest bit greasy. It only took three shampoo-rinse-repeats to remove the Earth that was growing on me. A trip as such is not meant to be luxurious and is not for the faint-hearted. It is all about the adventure and the extraordinary experiences that are guaranteed to happen. 

The trip truly was all about going with the flow. It is nice that I came back home to carry that lesson forward into my everyday life. Letting things go. Not worrying about how plans should happen. Life has a beautiful way of working itself out just how it is suppose to.

 
Old City Java | Knoxville Photographer
Old City Java | Knoxville Photographer
Old City Java | Knoxville Photographer
 

I often found it hard to find time to write – instead I walked aimlessly around taking in every bit of the new places I encountered. I did not spend a lot of time taking notes because I did not want to miss a second of the experience. However, the Wayfaren travel journal was great for those highlighted moments I wanted to be sure to revisit later. Logging key thoughts in a perfectly sized lined notebook that fits so easily in a backpack is a must-have for a trip like this. It also works great to bring stories back to life by adding details back home, reflect on memories, and perhaps laugh hysterically at remembered mishaps.

 
Old City Java | Knoxville Photographer
 

Speaking of hilarious stories, bless the hearts of the people who meet me! I have never been the type to just get out and talk to random strangers, so one of my promises to myself was this trip I would talk to whomever I encountered. I would share my story if they wanted to hear, and most importantly, I would listen to theirs. Meeting so many distinct individuals was a really cool part of the trip and oddly was not as I hard as I thought it would be. I enjoyed sharing parts of my mind with a total stranger. Sometimes though they got a little more than they bargained - for instance the painter from LA who invited me to tag along as we [shortly] walked around a couple of areas.

We went to the Cholla Cactus Garden (pictured below). These desert plants stretched out as far as I could see, and of course I wanted to see just how far they went. Duh! In an effort to avoid the parade of people on site, we unknowingly entered from the wrong side – there was no fence or path – because the warning signs were completely missed until after the fact. As we made our way all the way out to where they stopped growing, we turned and I stepped on a cactus and ended up with a needle in my shoe. Normally I am not a helpless gal, in fact, I am really rather stubborn and want to do things myself. However, when I was a kid I stepped on a cactus and a needle buried itself in my foot. The vivid childhood memory came roaring back in my mind and I freaked. This poor man gracefully knelt down and tried his best to rid this stupid thing from my shoe because I froze. Sweet right? Until I stepped on another one and all of his compassion was lost. The next time he just stood as I rested my bare foot on his attempting to get the second thorn out myself. Needless to say we did not continue on to the next stop together, but I am forever grateful for the artist who saved my foot.

 
Old City Java | Knoxville Photographer
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
 

In retrospect, the entire trip was about facing fears. Whether it was walking through terrifying bees, sleeping in the unknown under a blanket of stars, or realizing nothing would go as planned, the fear of putting myself out there and just being me was diminished. This was a time that was all about letting go of expectation of how I thought things are suppose to be. I knew this was the start of something great. Little did I know that after just the first day of exploring, what all I was in for. The was only the beginning.

 
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer
Joshua Tree National Park | Adventure Photographer