Imposter Trees and a Consolation Churro

I’m going to get right to the point with this one. I am an idiot. Not always, but I definitely was on the day I decided to go to Joshua Tree National Park. For reasons unknown, I’ve always wanted to go to Joshua Tree, even though at that time, I had no idea what a Joshua tree looked like. Remember that little fact – it comes in handy later. Ugh.

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Look at me, all optimistic.

I leave what is quite possibly the cleanest and most modern Hampton Inn I’ve ever stayed in (and trust me, I’ve stayed in A LOT), in Blythe, CA to continue on my way to Orange County. It’s Saturday and I’m not due in Orange County until Sunday for work, so I figured I would stop by Joshua Tree, seeing as I would need to drive past it anyway. I even dressed for the occasion, wearing tennis shoes (which I never wear), and workout clothes, like I was going hiking or something. I had my new DSLR camera with all sorts of attachments and lenses and was looking forward to doing some nature photography in the park.

Word to the wise, if you are driving from Blythe to Joshua Tree, please make sure your vehicle has plenty of gas. It is sparsely populated out there. No, I did not run out of gas, but I did stop at one of the very few gas stations along the way to check out a map of the park and figure out where I needed to go.

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I discovered that one of the main roads into the park lets you drive around for about six miles before having to pay the $25 entrance fee. I figured I’d take that route, see everything I needed to see, and turn around before reaching the entrance gate. I’m not a cheap person and I do support our national parks, so I’m not sure why I didn’t want to pay the $25 fee, but alas, I did not. Perhaps my future self knew a good blog post would come from this and persuaded my present self to be cheap.

Anyhow, it was a lovely six miles driving into the park. I pulled over probably a dozen times to snap photos of the abundant Joshua trees that were around every winding turn. The landscape was beautiful and I was thoroughly pleased with myself for choosing to stop here, even though I’m not what you’d call an outdoors kind of gal. I even stopped in a grove of trees to sit and meditate and commune with nature. It was great.

I got to the entrance and casually turned my car around and on the way back out, with

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$25 still safely in my pocket, I decided to stop off at a trail near the entrance to the park that had placards describing various vegetation within. As I moved along the path, carefully reading the placards in front of each type of plant, I noticed that the trees I’d been photographing all day were a combination of Deadwood, Desert Willow, and Blue Palo Verde. Hmm. That’s odd. But since lots of the plant life in the desert looks pretty similar, I didn’t think much of it and kept on the trail.

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As I reached the last labeled bit of vegetation, I realized I hadn’t seen a sign for a Joshua tree, which I thought was strange considering I was inside the park, but again, I brushed it off and continued on my way towards Orange County, thoroughly pleased with my photos. I even posted my favorite to Instagram, but thankfully had the good sense (or ignorance, whatever) to not call the lovely Desert Willow (I think) a Joshua Tree.

I pulled off in Coachella to grab lunch (Del Taco, of course), and decided to send a few photos from my shoot earlier in the day to my mom. I told her I had been at Joshua Tree and to check out my beautiful photos.

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What a beautiful Joshua Tree, Mom!

While she did agree that my photos were lovely, she asked why I didn’t have any photos of Joshua trees. Say what?? If you recall, I mentioned earlier that at this point in my trip, I did not know what a Joshua tree looked like. I think I assumed I’d recognize one when I saw it, but as a hasty Google search in the Del Taco parking lot revealed, I assumed wrong. Turns out there’s a reason you can drive so far into the park before having to pay, seeing as they keep the Joshua Trees safely tucked away and out of view until you cough up the $25 entrance fee. A lone Del Taco churro was my only consolation as I continued on my way, too embarrassed to turn back and go to the park. But not all was lost, as redemption was just a few days away…

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