Two of my friends decided to spend five days this Christmas camping in Joshua Tree National Park. One evening in late November, at a restaurant in San Francisco, they invited me along.
That threw me for a loop. It had never occurred to me there was an alternative to watching classic movies on Christmas Eve with my family, or opening gifts the next morning, surrounded by the soft twinkling of string lights. After 33 years of this tradition, it was hard to conceive of anything else.
"Oh! The desert. In the winter. Well... why not?"
While they chattered excitedly about hiking and climbing rocks, my mind worked to remember what I knew about Joshua Tree and deserts in general. Since I had lived in Michigan until six years ago, I had never actually been to one.
Facts flashed before me: "hot during the day, freezing at night," and, "snakes... tarantulas... coyotes." Plus, I had done some camping before, owned a tent and some camping gear; but I knew that my holiday-companions-to-be were camping newbies. Did they understand what they were getting into? Did I?
The feedback from my more experienced camper friends ranged from highly enthusiastic to serious questioning of our sanity. Fortunately, they offered to lend the gear we'd need to handle the nighttime temperatures, which we gratefully accepted. Despite my lingering doubt, the Saturday before Christmas, we loaded up the car and headed south.
And I will always be thankful that we did. The park was ethereally beautiful, with enormous weather-smoothed rock piles, and of course, the gorgeous and quirky Joshua Trees. Instead of a TV, we piled on warm sweaters and gathered around a crackling fire after sunset, cooking our meals and talking over mugs of wine. We decorated a nearby yucca with ornaments and battery-powered string lights, which cast a cozy glow.