Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Finding the magic in unknown places, the reason we travel

By Emily Woodbury
There’s a special kind of magic that seems to rest in the air in the high California desert. I’ve felt a similar magic before, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but it had been a while and it was nice to be reminded of what it felt like.

I was telling my travel companion about something I love. I explained, “One of my most favorite things in the whole entire world is when you’re in a quiet place—a small town main street, even a city block late at night, and you find a little restaurant or tavern with a lit-up sign outside. Opening the doors from a quiet, peaceful street into a bustling scene inside—drinks clinking, knives cutting, forks stabbing, chitter-chatter, music… it’s my favorite thing to watch an entire world come alive. A world tucked behind two closed doors.”

But as I drove through Joshua Tree National Park, I realized I found this feeling in places other than restaurants and taverns late at night. That same little piece of magic sometimes catches a person off guard in a place they would have never expected to find it. I thought I would love Joshua Tree, sure, but did I think it would slither like its Diamondbacks into my soul? No, I wasn’t expecting that. I opened its metaphorical doors and walked into a scene that made my little heart sing.

Photo Credit: Emily Woodbury

I’m not a particularly spiritual person so when I say soul, I mean it. There is most certainly a special kind of magic that sits in that high California desert park. A special kind of magic that makes you feel small, yet whole. I said out loud that I hadn’t felt that kind of peace or tranquility in a long, long time. It felt good. I breathed.

This is why we travel, isn’t it? We don’t know where we’ll find that magic. We don’t know what little piece of us we’ll leave behind when a place, or a restaurant or tavern at night, will capture a piece of our shimmering soul.

Traveling, being in new places, is so important. The feeling that I’m feeling right now, sitting back at my computer just north of Seattle, is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. What a shame it would be if I hadn’t gone south and spent a few days among the “fuzzy” Cholla Cacti and crooked Joshua Trees. We, as RVers, as travelers, as wanderers, know that we’re not meant to stay in one place for too long.

The open road always calls. Photo Credit: Emily Woodbury

There is always an urge to open two closed doors and reveal another bustling, magical world inside.

I’ve been to many continents and almost every state, but I can’t explain that feeling I felt in Joshua Tree National Park, or in Pappy and Harriet’s up the road in Pioneertown (“How the West Was Once”) or inside the Joshua Tree Saloon where a live band and locals dancing was emanating pure joy… No, I can’t explain it at all.

But that’s the thing about magic. It can never be explained.

Do you have a travel essay you’d like to share with us? Is there a special place where you feel the magic I’m talking about here? I’d love to read it! Send it here


Emily Woodbury
Emily Woodbury
Emily Woodbury is the editor here at She was lucky enough to grow up alongside two traveling parents, one domestically by RV (yep, Chuck Woodbury) and the other for international adventures, and has been lucky to see a great deal of our world (and counting!). She lives near Seattle with her dog and chickens. When she's not cranking out 365+ newsletters for she's hiking, cooking or, well, probably traveling.



4.6 11 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Karen Bates (@guest_233253)
7 months ago

We have not been to Joshua Tree yet but had this same feeling when we visited Upper Antelope Canyon in Page Arizona. We are currently in week 7 of an 11 week journey and every move brings us to new and different landscape, sights and sounds. Not to mention the rapid changes in weather depending mostly on elevations! This country is truly a gem and God’s mighty hand has created some wonderful places for us all to enjoy!

Travelingjw (@guest_233244)
7 months ago

Emily, great article thank you. We are in an RV park right outside Joshua Tree and were saying the exact same thing. JTNP is a really special place. We’ve spent 3 1/2 days here annd its not enough. We were so touched by the transition from the Joshua Tree desert to the Colorado desert that when we leave tomorrow we are going to pull the trailer over the pass just to see it once again. We’ve also never seen so many wildfowers.

Neal Davis (@guest_233241)
7 months ago

Thank you, Emily! No story, but I have had that feeling, or at least something that seems to fit your description.

JIm B (@guest_233219)
7 months ago

Thanks for this article, Emily. You should write/publish more often. I miss seeing your dad’s articles in the newsletters.

Dan A (@guest_233203)
7 months ago

My brother lives in Yucca Valley. We go there every winter when we’re camped out in St David AZ. We have a Jeep Wrangler Sahara UL with a tent on top and all the gear for boondocking in remote areas while we leave our home on wheels at the campground. We’re full timers.
Oh, I agree JT is really cool. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. My wife says I’m a beach bum, a desert rat and a mountain goat. I and the Navy introduced her to a lot country she as a northern MN girl had never seen before, and she’s stuck with me for 48 years.

Greg (@guest_233187)
7 months ago

We spent a few days in March riding our motorcycle through Big Bend National Park, Texas. I feel this is also one of those magical places. It is a beautiful park to experience.

HOWARD SCHILLER (@guest_229152)
8 months ago

We love the Joshua trees. We live among them in the Antelope Valley, (Lancaster) in the north part of Los Angeles county. Just a small correction to your article, we live in the high desert. The Joshua Tree National Park is in California’s low desert. We’re glad that there is a Joshua Tree National Park as in our area they are being destroyed to make room for solar projects. We have thousands of acres of solar panels that have not only cleared out these beautiful Joshua trees but also destroyed the homes of the endangered burrowing owl and plowed under acres of California poppies.

Dan A (@guest_233204)
7 months ago

JT is at an elevation of 5,000 feet. You climb straight up out of the low desert to get there. I also grew up in CA and my relatives lived in Banning.

Maridocs (@guest_163754)
1 year ago

Emily, an eloquent discussion; I share your sentiments about Joshua Tree but have not been there since it became so popular and crowded. Great night skies and enchanting topography and biology. I have similar sentiments about a very different but also desert environment, more difficult to reach but my favorite place in the world-Antarctica. I cannot fathom never having had the experience of traveling there, especially of missing the seasonal changes of the ice and of life there over many voyages.

cee (@guest_163706)
1 year ago

Thank you for your essay Emily. I am headed to Joshua Tree in a few weeks for the first time. Spent a lot of time in the SW experiencing jaw dropping soul piercing landscapes that I keep returning to because of how they make me feel. And I’ll keep returning but it’s time to add some new places; your piece is timely for me.

Heather (@guest_163718)
1 year ago
Reply to  cee

Yes, I consider myself mainly a forest mountain valley type, but my visits to Joshua Tree, Sedona, & Santa Fe sure cured me of assuming all desert landscapes were just sand, rocks, & cactus. If you’re a Dark Sky enthusiast, the high desert can’t be beat.

cee (@guest_163742)
1 year ago
Reply to  Heather

Looking forward to some night sky shooting!

Jerry X Shea (@guest_163662)
1 year ago

We just came out of a 8 day stay at the J. T. Cottonwood Campground. Spent a day driving around the park. Best part of all — No internet, Cellphone, TV, Radio coverage. Being off the grid for 8 days was wonderful. When we finally came back to “civilization” it turned out that the world had not ended. Ha.

Drew (@guest_163647)
1 year ago


Nice essay and a great addition to the Saturday newsletter, thank you.

Cat (@guest_163640)
1 year ago

You touched my heart! It wasn’t just the photos, it was the words that went with it. You voiced exactly what I feel when we visit beautiful places like this. Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing this with us!

Jim Anderson (@guest_163623)
1 year ago

Oh My
You are definitely your fathers daughter!!!
You so perfectly put into words to how my bride and I feel as we wander from our home in Prescott all over North America in our ole coach.
And, sometimes we’re so blessed to find those special, special places.
You indeed have that writer’s special skill, so much like your Dad had…
Thanks again Emily for putting one of those often overlooked benefits of “travel” into words!
Jim A

Vincee (@guest_163558)
1 year ago

Very good essay Emily. I really enjoy your writing style, and you can tell it comes from your heart. Well Done!

Yes, what you wrote is exactly how my wife and I feel in our travels and why we RV. By day the discoveries of your locations by day, and at night the serene peacefulness of a quiet calm campground lit by a brilliant star-filled night, campfire and a glass of wine.

Pahs (@guest_163508)
1 year ago

Emily. I know exactly the feeling of Joshua Tree. I grew up going there all the time. Nothing like it. The Quiet and the Dark sky are something everyone should experience. I live in Washington too. Since 1979. I’m 75 and still plan on returning there.thanks for the memories through your article.

Joseph Cox (@guest_163496)
1 year ago

Lived in J.T. for seven years,sold a year ago, loved it. For us old times J.T. is getting way too busy. Signs on the hwy. 62 go to 29 palms entrance, main entrance too busy. Home owners can’t get to their houses due to traffic. still a lovely park.
Best to visit during the week

Sandie (@guest_163483)
1 year ago

I’m not good with words but you described exactly how I feel about Death Valley. My whole body and mind became a part of that quiet beautiful place.

Heather (@guest_163714)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sandie

There’s something about being surrounded in a place of stone, light & sky.

I’m guessing late Fall or the Winter months is the best time to visit Death Valley?

Eric (@guest_163783)
1 year ago
Reply to  Heather

Early spring too. Just check the seasonal average temperatures on the park website. Also, remember that elevations range from 282 ft below sea level at Badwater (where it will be the hottest), to 11,049 ft above sea level at the top of Telescope Peak. Both in the same park! And there are plenty of places in between.

Andrew (@guest_229284)
7 months ago
Reply to  Heather

I like the last half of April and or October to visit Death Valley/Saline Valley.

Diane McGovern (@guest_163478)
1 year ago

Beautiful pictures Emily.

Leonard Rempel (@guest_163471)
1 year ago

Well said,
We started our RV journeys a little over a year ago, and feel the same things as you do with every new stop in our travels. I am so happy (and lucky) to be able to journey this way. Thanks for reinforcing the message of travel.

Jeanette Walker (@guest_163439)
1 year ago

Joshua Tree for you. The Colorado Rockies for me after a hike up a mountain surveying the quiet green below and inhaling piney air.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.