Christmas Circle first appeared through the dusty windshield of our old ford
pickup back in 1976 it looked like some kind of grand mistake in highway
planning, a big green traffic circle in the middle of the desert.
is a long drive from Priest Lake in far northern Idaho to Borrego Springs,
1,500 miles over two days. Terri and I had driven much of it through the night
to get to our destination, Joshua Tree, as early in the day as possible. But
when we pulled into the national park campground on that March morning almost
40 years ago it was already full. A ranger suggested we “go down to Borrego.”
He said that’s where he and his family went when they wanted to camp in the
desert, and he mentioned that they liked a place called Pinyon Wash. So the
The springtime desert trip had become an annual
ritual for us, a ritual started just a few years before while attending Idaho
State University in Pocatello. But the journey had always been to Arizona;
this was the first trip to the California desert.
For a while we just
sat on the grass at Christmas Circle and took in the surroundings. Then we
walked over to old food market where we picked up some carne asada to cook
over the grill, a couple of blocks of ice, and some cold drinks. By now it was
late afternoon so we hit the road again, for the very last part of a very long
As we left the asphalt and started bouncing our way into the
wash, I recall our attention was first drawn to the smoke trees. It was as if
they were there but not really, so perfectly blended with the environment that
you looked right through them, like smoke. We bumped along, passing stands of
cholla nicely backlit with the sun, and the sandy road drew us in, to always
see beyond the next bend in the road, to see what else might be out there.
A mile or so into the wash we found a spot that looked like it had been
waiting for us, a spot with an enormous rock at the base of a hill, some nice
flat sand behind it with perfect “sitting rocks,” a large ironwood tree for
shade, and barrel cactus and green agaves perfectly positioned on the rocky
slope above. The tarp came off the back of the pickup, the tent went up, boxes
of food were hauled to the tailgate, and before long it was moonlight that
illuminated the desert floor.
We didn’t really know it at the time,
but we had just found Borrego.
The day that we found Borrego seemed
like any normal vacation day at the time. But it evolved into something that
became more than that. From that very first trip, Borrego became home to us.
Everyone knows what home is. It is a place where you feel welcome and at ease
to be yourself, a comfortable place that just speaks to you and tells you this
is your place, the place where you belong, a place that calls you to come back
home when you are away.
We already had a home of course, Idaho, a
wonderful place that gave us the same feeling as Borrego. So the annual desert
trip became a migration between our two homes. Before long the pickup became a
family car, and the annual journey became a trip with two little boys along
for the ride, Chris and Andy. In the beginning it was a long trip that
involved diaper changes and car sick kids in the back seat, but later it was
with two boys who became desert explorers. The place in Pinyon Wash that we
called “The Rock” was often our base camp. It was the place where we staged
Easter egg hunts, where the kids “discovered” coins we had buried in the sand,
and the place where there was no better cup of morning coffee in all the world
when the first rays of the sun cast a warm blanket across the desert
landscape. It was a place where Chris and Andy came to on their own together
one time, when they were both old enough to drive.
We go back to “The
Rock” from time to time, and it is mostly unchanged from the first day of that
trip in 1976. I once kicked around in the sand to see if any of those coins
might still be there. But they are all gone. The wash has changed some after
decades of desert rains, but the agaves are still on the hillside, and the old
ironwood tree is there as well.
Everyone finds Borrego in their own
way and sometimes it takes time to know you have found it. Looking around “The
Rock” I can see lots of footprints, and I can tell that the sitting rocks have
been rearranged from time to time. Many people have spent the night at this
spot. It is nice to know that after almost forty years, this spot is still at
work, helping people to find Borrego.