Some of my oldest friends are really into Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and once we entered the Laurel Canyon, I told RJ how I like tweak them a bit by grading Graham Nash as a B- or C+ artist. That aside from the few songs with CSNY, “Our House” and “Marrakesh Express,” all his other work is very pedestrian. But the real reason for the B-/C+ grade, which I freely admit, is the result of him getting to be Joni Mitchell’s boyfriend during what was perhaps her greatest creative period which included “Clouds,” “Ladies of the Canyon,” and perhaps “Blue,”—I’m not sure of all the dates. It was bullshit that this little Welshman or whatever he is, who can’t even grow a proper beard, got to be with one of the greatest artist of the 20th century. And, by the way, on top of being one of the most innovative and insightful artists ever—she was hot as hell. Dylan—yes. Hendrix—certainly. Townshend—of course. Graham Fucking Nash? Get the fuck outta here.
By the time I was done with my Graham Nash takedown we were through Laurel Canyon, and I was like—"That’s it?” It was over in a flash, and it was just a bunch of nice houses winding through what was essentially another fucking suburban neighborhood. There was no magic, no mystique—just another neighborhood.
I so don’t get being a tourist, whether it be doing
selfies on Hollywood Boulevard as you’re stepping over homeless people, buying
overpriced burgers in a little mountain town or driving through very
forgettable Laurel Canyon. You can bet though when I recount the ten-minute
ride through the Canyon, I’m going to say it was magical—that I could feel
those vibes of “California Dreaming” and “In My Room” pulsing through my being.
We drove back to RJ and Karen’s place, I used the facilities one last time, thanked RJ—Karen was at work— and headed out to the desert.
After getting through the initial crush of L.A. traffic I got out on Rt. 210/10 going toward San Bernadino and the road opened up and the temperature began to rise. By the time I got to Yucca Valley and Twenty-Nine Palms near Joshua Tree the road had transitioned to Rt.62 and the thermometer was near one hundred. I made a left on Sunfair Road and headed back toward the North Joshua Tree BLM, aka—the desert. I was still wary from the Teton experience and the ten-mile dirt road from hell so I moved with caution trying not to grind my teeth. But this wasn’t that. Still pretty bumpy but once I turned off Sunfair it was about another mile on a hard dirt out into the emptiness.
When I say desert it might conger an image of sand, but this was just this hard packed soil slowly I imagine turning to rock due the lack of hydration. In front of people’s houses and at their curbs where back east there normally would be grass there was this loose rocky sand, but where I driving the van it was that hard pack soil.
The North Joshua Tree BLM was ringed by the Hexie Mountains and was like— ten square miles? My surveying tools were in my car back home, so I don’t really know how to accurately measure it, but there was a lot of open empty space. There were perhaps twenty campers—more would come closer to dark— some with what looked like permanent setups, but I had all the room I could possibly want. I was so far from other camper I could distinguish the color of their vehicles but not the makes or models.
When I found the spot I wanted to occupy I pointed the van so the sliding door on the side, where I’d set up my Mooshade awning, was to the east. That way I would have shade for the first part of the day. Right then though, while I was setting up, the sun was relentlessly beating down on me. It didn’t take long to put everything together but I was nevertheless drenched with sweat when I was done. I also noticed right away there was going to be a fly issue. Though I had secured the screen on the sliding door there were still small gaps in it and the constant going in and out resulted in about twenty flies being in the van. It’s like they saw me park and were like—FRESH MEAT— and converged from every part of that desert wasteland. Well, I had me a swatter and lets just say I went full Dorsey on them over the next couple of days.
As it drew near sunset both the heat and the flies took a temporary powder and I had a lovely night sitting out under the stars with a few cocktails and tunes. After packing up for the night I notice how eerily quiet it was out there in the desert and took a few minutes to listen to the nothingness, wondering what was the sound, when sound was absent?
My reverie was quickly broken when a plane passed overhead so I didn’t come up with the answer, but I was close.