There's Something in the Rocks

Beyond the top ropes and chalk stains, Joshua Tree's famous granite reveals its more mysterious faces.

   

I have found the rock of truht (sic), but you probably won't. Oh, it's out there, one of several hippo-size stones in the sea of rocky desert that is Joshua Tree National Park. Just walk about three miles west from Quail Springs picnic area and bear north at the wash. You're looking for a 50-foot pile of boulders rendered almost invisible by harsh light and the monochrome terrain. You may not see it until you literally stumble into it—not a bad metaphor, in fact, for the search for truth. These are Samuelson's Rocks, a self-created monument to an old Swedish sailor turned prospector who devoted long years to carving his every thought into the faces of these impossibly hard granite stones.
It's here that you'll find the Rock of Truht. It announces itself plainly: "The rock of faiht and truht," reads the first inscription on its side. Followed by "Nature is God." And nearby, rather disconcertingly, "Wake up, you tax and bond slaves."

As a lifelong habitué of Joshua Tree—I was born about 60 miles away—I'd often heard about Samuelson's Rocks and these nutty and moving inscriptions laboriously cut into the stone 70 years ago. But I'd never bothered to seek them out until now. Like most J-Tree regulars, I'd usually come just for the climbing, rushing rather heedlessly to bag as many of the park's 5,000-plus climbing routes as possible and grow my confidence on the awesome purchase of the grittiest granite on the planet.
But in recent trips I've come to realize that Joshua Tree is so much more capacious than its 5.8s and 5.9s, enthralling as those may be. It's also a place of otherworldly beauty and mystery, a massive, stark, surreal landscape where private little monuments such as Samuelson's feel not at all out of place. Hike past the skyscraping boulders or turn off the main roads onto long-abandoned mining tracks and this other Joshua Tree envelops you—lonely, silent, sere, and enrapturing. This is the heart of the Mojave Desert, where miners once dug gold from the sun-baked mountains, where chollas still outnumber climbers (though the climbers are gaining), and where faiht and truht lie embedded in the rocks, if you only know where to look.

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