I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments when I was a little frightened. When the intimidating foreign man asked me if I was camping alone. Or when I got a little woozy hiking in the peak of the desert heat without a soul in sight. When I woke up in the middle of the night startled by the sound of someone walking close by my tent.
But those moments were like single drops of rain on an otherwise perfect day. They reminded to take precautions and stay safe, but in no way dampened my mood or craving for adventure.
And what an adventure it was.
A part of the reason this excursion happened was that I got tired of waiting. I've wanted to visit Joshua Tree National Park for some time and got tired of making excuses for why I couldn't go. Another reason I challenged myself to this adventure was the reading of Wild—this month's WoA book club pick. If one woman can go from zero hiking experience to taking on the PCT, I can certainly survive a night camping in a well-populated National Park. And then another (less inspiring) reason was that the National Parks were free that weekend and I'm all about saving 20 bucks when I can.
With my decision made and research done, I made the long but desolately beautiful drive across the desert. I arrived at the Cottonwood visitor center—the one closest to Phoenix—but was informed that the Jumbo Rocks campground was the most popular, as it had the scenery of massive rocks and Joshua Trees people expect from the park. I was a little disheartened that I had to drive another 45 minutes but looking back, I'm glad I took the route I did. I drove the entire vertical stretch of the park and got to experience just about every type of desert foliage it had to offer.
The park became busier the closer I got to Jumbo Rocks campground, which I found both relieving and irritating. Fellow campers meant a buffer of safety but also one more barrier to experiencing the desert's beauty in solitude. One of the most enjoyable moments of my trip was when I stopped at Skull Rock, climbed the boulders of the less populated side of the road, and just laid on top of the tallest boulder I could climb—appreciating the cool breeze as I relished in knowing I had the courage to take on this solo adventure.
My trip continued with one triumph after another. I successfully pitched a tent by myself and spent the rest of the afternoon hiking the Pine City and Queen Desert Mine area. As much as I enjoy hiking with friends, hiking alone allows me to better appreciate where I am and be more in tune with myself. I'm able to observe the nuances of the landscape that I may not notice if there's another person with me. Things like a tiny red cactus someone thought needed sunglasses more than they did.
I also enjoyed being able to do what I wanted at my own pace. If I wanted to go off the trail to capture Pine City at a better angle, I could. I didn't feel rushed to leave the breeze that welcomed me as I gazed at the mountains fading in the distance. Or to stop wandering in the ruins of miners' quarters wondering what it'd be like to live so simply but have such a grandiose view.
I was on this adventure for myself. And it was the most rewarding thing I'd done yet.
Early evening had me exhausted but unwilling to miss scrambling over boulders to gain a better vantage of the sunset. This almost turned into "you're stupid for doing this alone" moment when I got lost on the way back to my campsite and had to make my way from one stranger's campsite to another in order to find the main road. Relieved to have found my campsite in the complete dark, I decided it was time for bed and headed straight into my tent to read Wild...before I got bored and ventured back outside to attempt some night photography. I eventually gave up on capturing the brilliant stars and settled for committing them to memory through the mesh canopy of my tent.
I easily drifted off to sleep and—to my delight—woke early enough to watch the sunrise. I perched myself on a boulder behind my tent and became transfixed by the sky's dark hues melting into pinks and oranges before settling on a soft morning blue.
I took this as my cue to pack up and do one more trail before hitting the road home. I decided on the recommended Ryan Mountain trail, which climbs about 1,000 feet in three miles and gives a nice panoramic of the park.
It was at the top of this mountain that I saw something I'd never seen at the end of a trail before—a massive pile of rocks. The pile was taller than me and I didn't get it until I saw the father of one of the families I followed up the trail step on the base of the pile and add a rock to the very top. He was leaving his mark on the trail, adding to the cairn built by those who came before him.
I couldn't help but think of WoA when I saw this. How each of us members are on a similar path to achieve our goals (however different they may be), willing to lend a hand to our fellow women adventurers just as we've been lent a hand to. You're bound to find someone in the group who has gone through whatever challenges you're going through and who's willing to help you overcome them. I've been repeatedly inspired by the women of this group. They continue to be my muse to get out of my comfort zone and go on an adventure I've not yet experienced.
I hope I've passed the torch.