Joshua Tree National Park, California
I went to a high school in northern California that prided itself on offering outdoor experiences to its students. Once, I spent a week hiking through Joshua Tree with my classmates. For the five or so days we were out in the desert, we carried all of our own food, water, and gear.
I was not the most outdoorsy kid at the time—am still not—but either out of ignorance or subtle peer pressure, I signed up for this trip. I still remember that my friend M. and I were too weak to carry the weight of our water supply; that I got a sunburn on half of my face when we walked down a craggy ravine in the middle of the afternoon (half of it was shaded); and that I was surprised at how miraculous it was that you could wash your bowl with dirt. I also developed a crush on a boy by the end of the trip, merely because of his physical prowess in the wild.
What stays with me in a more profound way borders on cliché: the beauty of the sky at night, the shifting temperatures of the desert, the cool mornings as the sun rose, the camaraderie we felt together in the middle of nowhere, howling like coyotes at the moon, and the strange beauty of the Joshua tree, with its scraggly limbs and ghostly figure. —Thessaly La Force, senior editor