Joshua Tree National Park: Into the wild, hours from L.A.

We were surrounded by trees that could have been drawn by Dr. Seuss. A desert hare had just crossed the trail in front of us, its ears translucent in the still-rising sun. But it was something else that caught my 28-year-old son’s attention.

“I can’t believe how silent it is out here,” he said. This was an offhand comment. I agreed, but said nothing. We walked on.

So I think I know the answer to the questions I brought with me to Joshua Tree National Park that morning. Can a person find isolation, silence and beauty in a visit measured in hours? Is it possible to experience a national park’s wildness in the time usually allotted for a blacktop tour?

We left Los Angeles at 10:58 a.m., an hour later than planned. Twenty miles west of the park, we began seeing the Joshua trees.

They’re not actually trees, but a species of yucca. One could be forgiven the confusion. Their trunks are shaggy with the desiccated foliage of previous seasons, which eventually falls off to reveal treelike bark. The new growth at the ends of branches looks like exuberant pineapples. They’re a kindergartner’s version of a tree.

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