Thursday, March 17, 2011

A desert story

As some of you know I just got married last week and it was a magical day for both Roland and me. While it's traditional for newlyweds to take off on a long vacation, we decided to make ours short, true to our love for small but frequent trips. I had wanted to visit Joshua Tree National Park for a while and to see the desert and Desert Hot Springs, so we made that our getaway destination.


It's spring time now, so the desert was not too hot and not too dry, but as we drove deeper into it, I started seeing more and more drought resistant plants, taller cacti, some random yucca and Joshua trees. That was the desert, no doubt? I could stop asking ''are we there yet?". As we drove into higher lands, more rocks appeared and it certainly didn't look like any scenery that I had ever seen. There is something awe inspiring about seeing a work of nature for the first time and your mind almost goes into sleep mode, making the experience entirely visual.


As we drove up into the Desert Hot Springs hills, I thought how little I knew about the way people choose to live up here, how few places I have seen, so close to city life (LA is probably a bit over 100 miles away and Riverside is barely an hour's drive) yet so distant, like a snapshot of life in the 30s, with time stopped, a store saying Desert Food Mart instead of some chain name, a Gun store, a thrift store to buy a gun closet to store the guns from the above mentioned store, a place to buy cactus for your garden....dig up your own, it's just 59 cents. I kept asking Roland questions, like a tourist who not only wanted to see, but to excavate the motives behind what she saw. This was, I found out, where people got away from it all, where things slow down, where everything costs less, sells less, stresses you out less, moves less, while surprisingly, pleasing more. We drove by clothing optional spa hotels, golf resort hotels, weight loss detox retreats, a museum of history...and finally made it to our small spa retreat - La Hacienda, a boutique hotel done in old California style, part Spanish architecture, part small back yard British garden landscaping, with desert elves hiding somewhere....and a very distinct and pervasive smell of lemon blossom, mixed in with orange, grapefruit and tangerine blossom, a smell so heavy and sticky, if it wasn't for the wind, you would think you could get permanently immersed in it, with no chance of going back to civilization and ever smelling city air again.

The Hacienda was home to amazing healing hot water springs, with a jacuzzi and a large pool, a place to cook your own food outside, a wonderful garden with plenty of beautiful plants and herbs, trees and flowers. Rosemary bushes reminded me of its use as a wedding flower, as we walked to our room, cozy, with a patio all to ourselves, equipped with an ancient bath tub, the grandfather of the jacuzzi that was proudly embedded in the garden.

Back in my home country of Bulgaria, hot mineral springs are successfully used to treat muscle and joint aches and pains and I was happy to discover that jacuzzi jets, when strong enough, can be used for trigger point therapy and fascia release. We were tired, I had some stiff muscles to work on, and the jets saved the day. They worked like magic. If you ever have the chance, give it a try.Find a hot spring and get into the jacuzzi. On one hand the temperature and minerals are strong relaxants and on the other the deep pressure of the jets gets to the most painful spots, whether it is a stiff muscle or just your tired feet after a day climbing rocks in the desert.


Speaking of the desert, I had never been in Joshua Tree and it was breathtaking. The silence, the colors, the size of the rocks, the feeling of sand underneath your feet, the challenge of the climbs, and the ever pervasive fear of encountering a rattle snake (or sitting on a cactus), briefly interrupted by the excitement of spotting a squirrel or a jack rabbit, all these wrapped into one to create a feeling of amazement and humility, which here seemed to fit well as a mixed emotion.

The few hours of hiking left us hungrier than we expected, since our breakfast was unusual for both of us. When we cook breakfast, we make sure to have some eggs, cheese or meat, and maybe add some fruit or yogurt. Protein rich breakfasts hold you full longer, so we were not surprised that after the delicious granola with fruit and almond milk, we felt like we could eat sooner than expected.

Granola IS delicious, but as you know from previous posts, it's not the choice of food when you want to stay full for a long time.

That night we cooked our own meal, grilling some kabobs and vegetables and we had a wonderful time. The smell of those lemon blossoms while we were cooking made me think of cooking something with them and we came up with very successful fruit and blossom grilled fruit kabobs, as you see here:

fruit skewers
Apple, orange and mango with a touch of lemon blossom. Grilled, they are divine.

It was hard to leave today, with the relaxing memories of listening to old Astrud Gilberto and Beatles records till midnight and the soft purring of the house cat still in our ears, but all good trips come to an end and this one should be no exception.

We read a number of books on the way and back, and had heated discussions over the role of insulin in obesity, the rules of punctuation, the origin of watermelons and the birth and death rituals of different nations over the world. Those discussions were great, but my mind was restless. Even at the end of the trip, I kept thinking and are the desert people different, what are their priorities, why are they out this where you get away from it all? Driving back, looking at the thickening traffic and looking for a place to get healthy lunch, I could confidently say ''yes, that is where you get away from it all''. That is where you cook, because the closest place to serve you food is an hour away, that is where you learn that old records require all our attention and can never be background music, and this is where you go to stop time so you can be, well, you. I can't wait to go back.


You can see more desert pictures from this trip on my profile on Facebook.


  1. Sounds kind of magical. So happy for you both :)

  2. It was a wonderful trip! Thanks for sharing it with me!

  3. Galya, this trip looks absolutely lovely in every way! Thanks for sharing your story. I particularly like the observations on the local people's lifestyle. Their circumstances make them eat healthily I suppose. But it is even better that people who probably have the fast food down the street still love cooking and live in harmony with their bodies, thanks to you! Btw, your evening "meal" doesn't look very compensating for what was your unusual breakfast! :) But it's still beautifula and nourishing.

    Next time you might interview some of these desert people!

  4. Thank you, Illy! You know I am not sure how healthy they eat, but they definitely have less fast food joints around compared to anywhere in the more populated areas. Seems like these guys will have more time and give eating more of an attention. After observing people here again, I am 100% sure it's being in a hurry, drinking too many soft drinks and juices, eating cereals out of boxes and lots of fat free everything... and NOT cooking, that has them in the poor shape they are in.

    I would love to interview some desert people next time we go, most that we met up in Joshua Tree Park were vegans;)

    Oh and the evening meal was tons of шишчета с месо before the fruit kabobs ;)


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