You don't meet anyone who has visited the Joshua Tree National Park, in the southern California high desert, and not loved it. Looking up from a Grand Slam at Denny's, you'll meet brave young Marines and their families from the base about three miles north of town. At the Twentynine Palms Inn, while eavesdropping on the conversations of Marine officers and LA intelligentsia in the cozy dining room and bar whose walls brim with the work of local artists and photographers, you could look up from your prime rib and homegrown pickled vegetables and see famed LA video diarist Huell Howser picking up an order of cheesecake to take home for dessert. On his "California's Gold," Huell's done programs about his getaway home of Twentynine Palms, but evidently not for 11 years. Kathy and I are selfishly pleased he's keeping reasonably quiet about our favorite place in the world.
And in the desert, sentinel trees, living rocks, and silence, although sometimes you think you hear Gram Parsons' voice on the wind. Ohio-born writer and essayist Deanne Stillman has written several books and essays about Joshua Tree and its denizens. Her latest book is Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West (June 2008). You can visit her website and read the first chapter here. Before I left the Nixon Library in February, we corresponded about the possibility of her giving a talk in Yorba Linda -- especially since, as it turns out, President Nixon signed the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which Stillman features in her book.