As a wee snail, I attended a tiny, experimental school, like a group homeschool. Twice a year, in the fall and spring, we’d camp in Joshua Tree National Park, rockclimbing by day and holding no-talent talent shows by night.
Last weekend, a friend from those schooldays, Romy the Otter, and I returned to Joshua Tree for the first time since.
I don’t care for date shakes or ostrich burgers, but I love Hadley’s because it encapsulates so much of Southern California history and culture.
In 1931, in the grip of the Great Depression, Paul and Peggy Hadley managed to start an orchard in Banning, California. On good terms with the neighboring Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Hadley Fruit Orchards thrived for twenty years. Then, in 1951, a fire burnt down the under-insured Hadley warehouse. Unable to bounce back in agricultural wholesale, the Hadleys decided to sell their dates, nuts, grapefruit, etc. directly to the public with a roadside stand in nearby Cabazon. Paul painted plywood billboards to advertise the stand in its remote location, and talked landowners up and down the highway into letting him post his signs on their property.
The timing couldn’t have been better. It was the 1950s, and Southern Californians were hitting the road to glamorous Palm Springs. And there was no competition–nowhere else for travelers to stop for a bite! The stand was so successful, the Hadleys were raking in more money than most wholesalers. The Hadleys built their own honey house, and bought five more date orchards. They soon added butters and jams, cereals and grains, baked goods, candy, and wine to their offerings. It’s even said that, in response to hikers headed to the San Jacinto Mountains, Paul Hadley invented trail mix! The once humble stand became the largest store of its kind in the country, and expanded into catalogue orders–wherever you lived, you could get a taste of Southern California in a basket by mail.
In 1999, the Morongo tribe bought Hadley’s. This was also the year of the first Coachella Valley Music Festival, which became annual in 2001, drawing a new generation to Hadley’s. Between this and the Morongo Casino which opened in 2004, Hadley’s has continued to thrive in the twenty-first century.
We arrived at the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park after dark. As we pulled up to the entry kiosk behind several other cars, the ranger glanced at the tent, sleeping bags, and other gear in the back of the car.
“You’re not planning on camping tonight, are you?” he asked.
“Yes…” we replied hesitantly.
“The campgrounds are completely full,” he tilted his prematurely graying head in slight apology.
He told us about a site outside the park where we could camp. We turned back the way we came, and drove up and down the highway looking for the road to the alternate site. But we couldn’t find it! (We later learned it was off the road into the park, not off he highway.)
We’d reserved a 1966 trailer for the following two nights. Maybe we could go there one night early. We knew from the Airbnb reservation calendar that no one was staying there that night. But the owner would know from his utility bill if we came earlier than we’d paid for.
By then the moon had risen, big and orange, a day after the full moon.We decided to look into motels. There was one we’d noticed on the drive into town, a funky adobe style place with fairy lights. Romy the Otter parked out front, and I went in to inquire about a room. I opened the turquoise office door to be greeted by all sorts of Gram Parsons memorabilia.
There was one room available. Someone had just cancelled their reservation. I signaled Romy to come on in.
I asked the receptionist about the Gram Parsons connection. She said the motel was where he died.
“Not in our room, I hope,” Romy said.
“No, he died in number 8. You’re in number 10,” the receptionist replied.
Someone called asking about a room for the night just as we were registering. The rate, though perfectly reasonable, was a little steep for us, but Mr. Parsons seemed to want us to stay.
There was a Gram Parsons shrine in one of the lovely courtyards. It faced the door of number 8. The couple staying there were having a picnic dinner of crackers and cheese and grapes at a little outside table. Flying Burrito Brothers and other Parsons tunes twanged from inside their door.
In the morning sunshine we were able to see just how lovely the courtyards were. There was even a koi pond. And then there was the natural landscape, the joshua trees and cholla, juniper and ocotillo.
We said goodbye to the Joshua Tree Inn and returned to the national park. There we went on a walk to Barker Dam, where, from about 1900 to midcentury, there had been enough water for ranchers to water their cattle. It was a not-so-attractive pond upon our visit, but if we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have seen the bighorn sheep. We were walking back when a string of eight bighorn sheep appeared out of nowhere! Once they passed, their white flanks bobbing, we continued on, only to come upon another herd right near the trailhead. These were bigger than the last group, with impressive curled horns. The first group was probably mostly female, and these were the males that the alpha male had kicked out to minimize competition. For me, those sightings were the highlight of the trip.
Back out of the park and down the road into town, we stopped at what our little school had always referred to as The Hippy Shop. (Actually called Coyote Corner.) Perhaps it was the psychedelic painted old school bus in the Hippy Shop parking lot that inspired me to buy a postcard of Further, and one of Janis Joplin and her far-out Porsche.I gave this postcard to Mama Snail as a birthday card. “Further” seemed like a good birthday metaphor.
Janis and her 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet. Painted by friend and Big Brother & The Holding Company roadie Dave Richards. The faces on the hood where Janis is sitting are portraits of herself. The members of Big Brother have their portraits on the side.
After a hike up Ryan Mountain and two starry nights in the ’60s trailer, it was time for us to leave Joshua Tree for our Sound Bath at the Integratron.
I don’t know how to detach from myself and really meditate, but I still had a great time listening to the big quartz singing bowls in the second floor of this surreal building, the Integratron. Built from douglas fir without any hardware, sound travels in the dome like nowhere else. Noise made in the center might sound like it’s right behind you, while noise directly across the room sounds the clearest. You can whisper into one of the twelve arched beams, and someone standing at the opposite end can put her ear to the beam and hear you perfectly. With the singing bowls, you can hear wether they’re being played clockwise or counterclockwise, as the sound runs around the dome like a helicopter circling. If two bowls are played at once, you might hear one tone in one ear, and one tone in the other like your head’s in stereo!
What a trip!