3825-2: High Desert Beard Oil Harvest

Mojave Desert after an early spring rain, resiny creosote desert winds with wildflowers in the air.

“South Texas” by Cold Sun.
“Ballroom Of Mars” by T. Rex
“He’s my Thing” by Babes in Toyland

We’re so excited! We leave tomorrow for the desert. God, I get hungry for the desert at this time of year. We’re set to backpack through an extremely remote and stunning part of the Mojave Desert to make a seasonal desert bloom fragrance. I have a pretty good idea of the plants we’re gonna see out there, but I have no idea what will be in the air, and there’s always surprises. I’m such a know-it-all, whenever I set out on these things I always think I know what’s going to be happening in the air and what we’ll be collecting to put that place in a bottle, and then I’m always wrong. We always discover new plants we’ve never worked with before, we sit in a forest and debate about what’s making it smell that way, so I suppose there’s no point in pretending I know what we’re after, ‘cause we’ll find out on the trail.

It’s one of my favorite backpacking rituals to drive all night from redwoods-and-green-grass northern California to the desert. I awoke this morning to an utterly transformed landscape. Kaboom. Suddenly there’s endless open vistas, waving creosote bushes and impossibly high mountains shooting up from the desert floor. It’s a psychedelic desert landscape.

Aw jeez, it’s so intoxicating out here on our pre Desert and Denim Mojave backpacking excursion. This is one of my favorite places anywhere; I’m high as a kite and don’t even know what to think. The resinous aura of the chaparral type plants and the sweetness from fresh ambrosia and gooey annuals fills the canyons like a swelling flood.

2/6/15 AM
I’m resting under a piñon tree as we make our way through the Granite Mountains. We set out for a thirty mile backpack today. Thirty miles doesn’t seem like much, but it’s all off-trail; for every step forward you take, you’re also taking a step sideways to walk around a rock or cactus. Really it’s more like sixty miles with serious elevation gain and loss. Today we’re ascending about 4000 feet to the crest of the Granite Mountains up a steep exposed hillside. We’re about halfway up and I’m exhausted, it feels way too good to lie in the shade of the piñon; I should probably get going.

2/6/15 PM
We made it! What a rough day, scrambling 4000 feet up an incredibly steep exposed desert slope. We’re watching the last rays of the desert sun at 6000 feet tonight in the Granite Mountains. There are no footprints along this section of the desert “trail” (really just a collection of waypoints mapped out by my backpacking mentor Steve Tabor.)  The last group here came with Steve 12 years ago, and it was a total pain to get up. But it’s so unbelievably beautiful up here at this elevation on this remote saddle in the Granite Mountains.

Today we spent a good chunk of time doing fragrance exploration work. We checked out blackbrush, western juniper, pinon, creosote, ephedra and goldenbush. I had no idea ephedra smells the way it does, wow!

When we got back to the Field Lab van after our stunning but super tough Mojave backpack, we were out of our heads happy. We drank cold beer and blasted T. Rex’s The Slider (yeah that’s right babies, we have a record player in the back of the van!) We danced wildly in the desert dirt. In my brain I was going for a break dance type move where I was going to spin on my head and it was going to be amazing, but it totally didn’t work out.

We drank beer and blasted T. Rex (yeah that’s right babies, we have a record player in the back of the van!).

Everyone knows that the best part of backpacking is coming off the trail, drinking cold beer, eating yourself into a food coma, and (ah yes) the desert motel ritual; a quiet dark room at the Joshua Tree Inn. Gram Parsons famously overdosed here in room number 8 in 1974. I have no such plans, though I gotta say this is a jolly hotel. There’s a hookah going in the courtyard with vibrant young L.A types saying “Hey, join us!”. Can you overdose on herbal blends and marijuana?

My head is still spinning from last night’s unbelievably rockin’ Babes in Toyland reunion show at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Saloon. We ate steak tacos, drank tequila, and smoked a joint under a brilliant desert night sky. We danced until the floorboards of this old Mojave saloon shook.

Today we spent the whole day harvesting desert lavender, cheese bush and other low elevation desert plants for distillation. What a trip. We can’t wait to throw these ingredients together for our seasonal desert beard oil!

"A flower's structure leads a bee toward having pollen adhere to its body . . . we don't know of any such reason why beautiful places attract humans." - David Rains Wallace.