Through the car’s speakers, R. Carlos Nakai’s mournful cedar flute in “Song for the Morning Star” pierced my heart as we pulled into the Grand Canyon’s South Rim lookout point.
The girls, noshing on cactus candy and green apple scorpion suckers, jumped out of the back seat and strode to the canyon’s edge for a look.
Standing with the family and staring into the vastness, I nodded, releasing a sigh. “That’s a big hole.”
What else could one say? The grandeur was richer than words, more striking than the pictures we’d capture to remind ourselves of our encounter with the Divine.
Over lunch, Husband mentioned a sightseeing possibility. “I was thinking we could make a stop in Oatman today.”
“What’s there?” I wrinkled my nose, the desire to get to Palm Springs thrumming inside me. “Is it worth the time?”
He shrugged. “Look it up and see what you think.”
I skimmed an article about the town, and the writer had me at “kitschy Arizona ghost town, inconveniently located on Route 66” and “if you’re not careful, the feral burros will steal your ice cream cone.”
“We have to go,” I said.
Husband navigated twisting mountain roads all the way to our destination. Burros sauntered down the main street of Oatman, slowing our entrance. Clearly, they owned the place. We parked, and the animals, greedy for attention and treats, headed over to meet us. The girls scrambled from the car to pet them, and even before our visit began, I knew I needed a t-shirt to commemorate it.
We bought bags of hay pellets at a shop, and while the girls ingratiated themselves with the town’s wildlife, I stepped into the old Oatman Hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had stayed for a night on their honeymoon. I climbed the creaky steps to their private quarters on the second floor, now on display for the public, and breathed in the musty surroundings, their suite small and humble—a stark contrast to their opulent Hollywood marriage.
I headed back outside toward Dicka who was petting a foal under a nearby tree. A lady rolled up in her car next to my girl and lowered her window.
“Don’t give the baby hay,” she said. “His mama still feeds him.”
I joined Dicka in the shade. Someone had affixed a post-it note to the animal’s forehead: “Don’t feed me! I’m still nursing.”
“They’re serious about this,” I said, petting the little one too. “That’s good.”
We browsed the shops’ trinkets and ate ice cream we kept away from the burros. Our hay pellets spent, we waved goodbye to the old mining town with its furry wanderers and their vigilant caretakers, and pointed the Honda toward Palm Springs.
We stopped at a gas station at Vidal Junction at the intersection of 95 and 62 to fill our tank with $4.79/gallon gas. The place struck me as a last-chance stop, so I loaded up on gallons of water. Back on the road, the car gobbled up the miles, the route forlorn and the Mojave Desert desolate. No other vehicles shared the road with us for miles in either direction, and I shivered despite the 111-degree heat.
What if our air conditioning went out? What if we broke down? Could we get a cell phone signal out here? And if so, how long until AAA could locate us?
I tried to shake off my worries and shift to more positive thoughts. “So, how many bodies are buried out here, do you think?”
“Probably a ton,” Husband said.
I squinted at the brave, sparse plants poking through the desert’s sun-baked soil. “That’s what I figured.”
My first name means “palm tree,” and an intense love for the tropical plants was woven into my DNA from the beginning. The tall ones, a hospitable species, lined up in formation to welcome us into Palm Springs, and I knew right then our two nights in the southern California city would only make me crave more. But two would have to do.
We trekked out to Joshua Tree National Park where two desert ecosystems collide. My mind played U2’s 1987 album—“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”—but there I found it as I gazed at the twisted, bristled Joshua trees, their shape reminding me of something Theodor Geisel, the illustrator for Dr. Seuss’ books, might have sketched, and a quick Google search showed me I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
We waited out the sun—and won—choosing our seating among the massive rocks for the star show Husband had read all about. Our “chairs” warmed us in the darkening, cooling desert. I leaned back against Husband’s chest, and we soaked in the night. The darkness could’ve eaten me whole, and I would’ve been okay with it.
The stars might have dazzled us if the full moon hadn’t outshone them. Still, the beauty muted our speech, quieting us.
A lizard darted away. Crickets chattered. A breeze grazed our bare legs. My heart swelled.
I love you too, I heard on the wind.
Before leaving Palm Springs the next morning, I needed a taste of Old Hollywood to go with my latté. I led the family on a drive-by tour of actors’ homes, which would’ve been called stalking if the famous homeowners were still alive.
I rattled off each address to Husband, Dicka looked up the star connected with it and read aloud a summary of his or her life, and when we found the place, I took a photo. I checked Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and Frank Sinatra off my list—all the homes within a few miles of each other. Some of the houses had been tended to better than others, but all of them were pretty and surprisingly normal, owned now by probably normal people too.
As we departed the Sonoran Desert city, a pang of something I couldn’t name flitted through my chest. I tucked away my list of names. All gone now.
On to the City of Angels…
Tune in next week for the fourth installment of the story! It’s just starting to get good…
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.