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  • Writer's pictureKathy Condon

Desert Institute Partner with Joshua Tree National Park

Updated: May 2


Low bushes in the front and boulders in the distance at Indian Cove Campground-site for the Desert Institute.
Setting for Desert Institute Writing Seminar at Indian Cove Campground near Joshua Tree National Park Photo by Kathy Condon

When the Desert Institute catalog arrived, I felt like a little kid in a candy store. It listed a plethora of courses one could take to learn more about our often-mysterious desert.


What is the Desert Institute?

The Desert Institute is a branch of the Joshua Tree National Park Association, the park's primary non-profit partner. It offers field classes, recreational adventures, and social events in different formats and disciplines. All the fees from the classes go directly back to the park.


Looking over the catalog, I can't help but wish I were a tad closer to the park to take advantage of more of the classes. The educational opportunities include learning about the park's geology, bird and wildlife identification, and nature photography, to name a few.


Writing Course at Indian Cove Campground

I decided to attend the class called Landscapes of the Soul. I've wanted to enhance my description of places and things, and this class narrative stated, "It will cause you to look more closely at the environment around you."


As always, when headed to the Joshua Tree area, I packed twice as much water as I thought I would need, slathered on the suntan location, and grabbed my wide-brimmed hat.


Since Wi-Fi is sketchy at best in the area, I made sure to copy down the directions to Indian Cove Campground. I had never been there and only knew it was near 29 Palms.


The Perfect Afternoon to Head to the High Desert

The sun shone brightly on the windmills, gently turning with the slight breeze. Since it was a Coachella Weekend, the traffic heading to Coachella Valley on the other side of the road was heavy, while my lane had nary a car or truck in sight.


After about 50 miles from Palm Springs, I turned off Highway 62 near 29 Palms on a narrow two-lane highway West. I could feel and see I was climbing to a higher elevation. I later learned that the Indian Canyon Cove Campground is at an elevation of 3500 ft. 


The paved road became dirt, and a Y on the road had me guessing which way to go to the designated campsite. Following my intuition. I took the right path and soon found myself at Campsite 11.


Greeting other Members of the Class

Delighted, it was a small class, a songwriter, a woman who liked to write, and Park volunteers who were not only there to assist but were also eager to take the class.

Our Instructor, Cindi Anderson, shared several readings from Joseph Campell's writing. Mythological symbols and automatic writing concerning the land surrounding us were explored.

Tiny yellow flowers scattered throughout the area noticed while attending the Desert Institute Writing Seminar
Flowers I noticed while attending Desert Institute Seminar Photo by Kathy Condon

Time to Find Our Spot to Write

After the lecture, we fanned out through the area with water bottles in hand. The goal was to find a spot where we could be comfortable to write. I found a giant low boulder nearby and started to write.

A groupingof six yucca plants at the site where I took the course at Desert Institute.
Group of Yucca Plants at Indian Canyon Cove Campground

Here is what I wrote, with no adjustments or corrections:

The quiet whisper of the wind gently nudged at my hat, to no avail. It stayed firmly on my head.


I found a small boulder close to the desert sand floor. I laid down my purple backpack and found an indentation that could serve as a chair. Though gritty, it still seemed more comfortable than the cement picnic tables we were at during the lecture part of the writing retreat.


With their sword-like leaves, Yucca plants are devoid of beautiful white blossoms yet certainly make their mark on the desert landscape. No two are the same height. A grouping of them at various heights seems to call to me, "Look at me." 


When I looked down toward the ground, miniature yellow flowers were everywhere. Sometimes totally growing by themselves, others obviously feel more comfortable living in a bit of a colony – working to stay alive in the sometimes-challenging conditions of the desert.


In front of me was the vast Valley of the Mojave Desert. Tiny dots are likely homes of people enjoying their Sunday activities, oblivious to the sights and sounds around them.


The Valley below is off to the right, peeking out from behind the large boulders. The Marine Base is probably alive with activity, but from my point of view, it appears to be frozen in time—no movement of any kind can be seen.


To my left, small columns appear to be standing like soldiers. With the sun gleaming on them, the mineral contents of the pillars reflected various shades of color, from beige to a deep chocolate brown.


BBQ in the foreground, picnic table on the left, and boulders-site for the Desert Institute Seminar
Desert Institute Site Near Joshua Tree National Park - Indian Cove Campground-Photo by Kathy Condon

Return to The Group

We gathered together on the picnic bench. There was a noticeable peace among us. We had been in a quiet, reverent-like atmosphere, looking at and communicating with nature.


Those who wanted could share their writing. Some had a flow of thoughts, leaping from personal to revelations about how they are part of the world. Others apologize for not having much, and we quickly assure them of how insightful a statement was when they read it.


I was so appreciative that I had the opportunity to use a process Don George, a travel writer whose writing I admire, recommends: sit down in one place and capture the sights and sounds around you.


Time to Leave

It was an outstanding afternoon. As we were about to say goodbye, Mother Nature showed her sense of humor and made her presence known by increasing the winds, reminding us that what we saw today could be different on our next visit.


Thank you to the Desert Institute for helping arrange this terrific class. Here's a link to sign up for their newsletter to learn about the variety of seminars they offer.


Kathy Condon in White shirt with large gold beads
Kathy Condon Journalist and Travel Writer

Kathy Condon is a Journalist, Travel Writer, and Award-winning Author. Her niche is luxury experiences and communities living in the shadows of large cities. 760-902-3094

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