There isn’t a lot going on, plantwise, in the desert, in October. Nonetheless, the days are cool and the night’s aren’t frozen yet. The Piñon trees are dropping their cones, birds are nesting and the air is bitter dry. Hall Newbegin, founder of Juniper Ridge, is at 10,000 feet deep in the Panamint Range, Northwest of Death Valley, scrambling across a steep, scree covered mountainside. To say this is the California backcountry doesn’t get at how entirely remote this place is: in fact, this corner of the state is the largest roadless expanse in the lower 48.
Roadless and waterless. Hall recalls running out of water on day on his epic trip, “I wasn’t due to get at the next spring until the next morning. That night, as I lay there thirsty, the animal part of my brain kept going back to water. I couldn’t think of anything else. Like a drum that wouldn’t let me dream: water. water. water.” The following morning, he did find the tiny trickle of an ancient spring and was able to keep from going mad; although, the next treasure the desert revealed challenged that premise.
The vision stood on the peak of a nearby scarpe, glistening in the early-morning sun: a single piñon pine completely encased in its own pitch. Pitch is the sap that trees release to fight rot and disease, and is incredibly common, but to find a tree completely in cased in it, is rare indeed. This treasure is only a treasure to a particular kind of treasure-seeker: the Wilderness Perfumer. Piñon pitch is incredibly rich and aromatic, its smell profile is somewhere between honey and leather; or maybe salt and pepper; or even sunshine and snowmelt. Hall packed out of the desert with nearly 10 pounds of the stuff, the first ingredient in a long chain of wildharvested trail-findings that would eventually become Juniper Ridge’s Desert Denim Wash.
Piñon pitch is incredibly rich and aromatic, its smell profile is somewhere between honey and leather.
Meanwhile, across the country, Obi Kaufmann, Juniper Ridge’s chief storyteller was having a beer with Mats Andersson, founder of Indigo Fera Jeans in a cafe in New York City. “You really can’t wash your raw demin jeans for about six months as you are breaking them in.” Mats explained to Obi. “If you are concerned about the way they fade and form to your body.”
“I usually just wear my jeans into the ocean, or in Yuba River, when I am out on the trail.” Obi continues. “I’ve been wearing these jeans you made, Mats, for about six months. I usually just use Juniper Ridge’s Backpacker Cologne on the jeans themselves when there isn’t a mountain river handy. After all, it is the same thing.”
“Right. I do the same thing.” Mats says as he takes out his ever present vial of his Mojave Backpacker Cologne and splashes some in his hand and puts it in his hair and rubs it on his jeans. “Obi, you can’t over do any of your products and they are all, actually, great apparel refreshers for when you are in between launderings.”
A month later, back in Joshua Tree, camping near the National Park, Hall and Obi sit reunited; the whiskey still sitting on a large stone-ring campfire. Full of piñon pitch, the sweet aroma bubbling up fills the night with that same, sweet leather smell. “We are going to get a ton of plants tomorrow to add to this formula: Creosote flowers, Desert Lavender, Mojave Sage, Mojave Ambosia. It is just going to be the most beautiful thing ever. This Desert Denim Wash is going to change things.” Hall chuckles to himself and passes the whiskey flask to Obi, who nods and agrees.
“Nobody has done this Hall. This could change everything.”