Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 04-05-2008

Our last day in the desert was supposed to be spent in Joshua Tree National Park, where we were going to stay until nightfall to finally see BIG SKY. Unfortunately the van can no longer climb steep hills and the only way out of the Coachella Valley is to climb out.

Desert Van
Desert Van

We took the van to Car Care in Desert Hot Springs for a diagnosis and $80.00 later we received the prognosis – she needs a new transmission.

They wanted $3,500.00 to put in a rebuild. The van’s not worth that much in today’s market, we’re not sure what to do.

She runs fine on flat ground so we’ll have to baby her for now. Still, it puts a damper on our travels, limiting us to going only to places that are flat. Flat Stanley Loves it.

Just the same, I want to get out into the desert one last time before we leave.

The place I’ve been itching to go is just across the street from Desert Pools where we’re staying.

So Parry and I pack some food and water, don our new desert hats and head toward the mountains.

It’s both hot and cold in the desert today. Hot from the sun, cold from the wind. So we sweat and get the chills at the same time.

As we walk between the mountains and into the canyon, we’re a bit more protected from the wind and can stop holding onto our hats. The warmth of the sun feels good to the insides yet sears my skin.

Seared by the Sun
Seared by the Sun

Without any water in the air to diffuse the sun’s power it seems stronger even at lower temperatures. I can’t image being out here at 120°.

Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere

We follow a dirt road until it becomes a dirt path and then finally a natural path with a rocky climb. We’re convinced if we keep climbing we’ll get beyond the mountains into Joshua Tree, which we know is just on the other side of these hills.

We finally reach a point where there is no more path and the only way to continue is to climb up the mountainside. The peak doesn’t look that far away and I’m convinced we can make it.

We stop, sit down on a couple of warm rocks and have lunch. I forgot to pack bread for the sandwiches, so we have turkey and cheese rollups instead.

View From the Top
View From the Top

It is so quiet here except for the sound of the wind and a couple of ravens nesting in a small hollow above. They fly in circles over us, I suspect they’re trying to chase us off.

We finish eating and begin the climb, I’m in the lead with about fifty pounds of equipment on my back.

We haven’t climbed very far when I realize that it’s not going to be as easy as it seemed. Footholds are scarce, the ground just crumbles around you and falls away.

Desert Flowers
Desert Flowers

I’m used to the solid mountains of the east. These hills are loose rock, gravel and sand with cactus and other desert vegetation hanging on for dear life.

We’re about halfway to the top when I realize that one misplaced step and one of us could easily go plummeting down the side of the mountain.

Long Way Down
Long Way Down

I freeze up but Parry, feeling more confident, takes the lead.

I still think we can make it to the top, but I’m more concerned now about making it down to the bottom. So we turn around and gingerly work our way back to solid ground.

After a few tortuous missteps and some quickstepping catches, we make it back to the bottom.

Resigned that we’re not going to get to Joshua Tree by this route, we decide to walk back to a fork in the path we saw earlier.

On the way there I realize I’ve lost my cell phone so we turn around and go back.

I’m convinced that it’s gone forever but Parry insists that he can find it. I give him the benefit of the doubt. The other day, he found a piece of paper lying in the middle of the desert brush that had flown out of the van in a gust of wind.

Parry climbs back up the side of the mountain while I wait below. Within minutes he’s yelling that he’s found it. St. Joseph is with him today.

Parry Finds My Phone
Parry Finds My Phone

We walk back to the fork in the path. This time we go the other direction where we arrive at another fork. Again, both paths require climbing up to continue on. We can’t tell from here whether or not either path will lead us to the other side of the mountains.

Although I’d love to keep going and get to Joshua Tree, the sun is sinking quickly towards the horizon and we don’t want to get stuck up here in the dark. We decide to head home.

Before we leave however, there is one more thing I want to do in the desert and this is my last chance.

When we were in Venice Beach, CA we stopped in a little clothing/gift/head shop on the boardwalk called the Seaside Gallery. There we picked up a little container of Salvia – the Diviner’s sage, Sage of the seers. I’ve always been interested in spiritual quests ever since I had my Born Again experience as a teenager. I’ve read that this plant is used for that purpose and felt the desert canyon was the perfect place to experience it.

I’ve also read that it’s not something you should do alone, so I ask Parry to watch over me in case I try to do something crazy under it’s influence. I walk into a wide crevice in the rocks, sit down and proceed to partake. I have no idea what to expect, I’m almost expecting nothing to happen at all.

After two tokes the effects are quite sudden and extremely intense.

It’s difficult to describe, I don’t really hallucinate, although the quality of the light changes dramatically. It’s more like instantly transporting to a new and quite unexpected level of awareness and yet still being cognizant of who and where I am. It’s pleasant and scary at the same time.

A Glimpse of Heaven
A Glimpse of Heaven

Parry is standing there as if nothing has changed. I keep repeating “Wow, this is intense!!!” and yet he seems not to believe me. He asks me if I’m ready to move on and I say yes.

After literally stumbling to my feet, we proceed on.

The effects dissipate pretty quickly and I feel that I handled the experience OK without losing it, so …… that’s when I do something I would not have done had I been in my normal consciousness. I give Parry a toke.

He takes a toke and holds it for a moment. He’s expecting something mild and at first seems OK. Then, without warning, he goes totally mad.

Swept up in a hallucination that’s scares the crap out of him, he sees the walls of the canyon and the sand at our feet swallowing him up.

In a panic he drops his camera bag to the ground and throws off his backpack, thinking they’re weighing him down, and grabs on to me so hard he’s pinching my skin.

A Glimpse of Hell
A Glimpse of Hell

In my calmest voice I try to reassure him that everything is alright and I’m not going to let anything happen to him. That it’s not real.

All the while, I’m scared that he’s really gone crazy and will remain this way.

Filled with fear, he darts back and forth, hanging on to me while trying to get away from the vortex. Later he tells me he felt like he was being sucked away forever and his biggest fear was he didn’t know where it was taking him.

It only lasts a few minutes and as he regains his sense of reality, he looks at me angrily and says “I don’t ever want to do that again”.

Desert Parry
Desert Parry

Neither of us walks out of the desert that day the same person that walked in. I was looking for a bit of heaven, Parry found a bit of hell.

1 Comment posted on "This Could be Heaven or This Could be Hell"
Wendy on August 22nd, 2009 at 6:16 am #

What a desert experience – both ends of the spectrum. So sorry you did not get to Joshua Tree though. Maybe another time you will.

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