Retreat group sitting in a 'pod' in the AZ site in Joshua Tree

A Perfect Weekend in Joshua Tree & The Science of Awe

The jackrabbit came by to say hello and then came another, and they continued on past the cactus and brittlebush into the beautiful evening light. Here we are, having just unpacked our bags at the Ventus House for a weekend in Joshua Tree courtesy of Spur Happenings.  Our Joshua Tree itinerary includes meeting interesting people, exploring the Science of Awe, and discovering why Joshua Tree is so special.

The first supper - joshua tree with delicious Mediterranean food and flowers on the table

What is the Science of Awe?

Author Dacher Keltner describes “awe” as “the emotion we experience when we encounter vast mysteries that we don’t understand”.  Did I mention that we’re about to walk across the sands of Joshua Tree to our neighbor’s house to have dinner? We’re meeting with Dachner, his partner, our newfound two housemates, Frank and Jessica of Spur, and other awe seekers who were interested in joining us for this weekend in Joshua Tree. 

Dacher Keltner is awe-inspired, and you should be too | University of California

The long table is set for 12, with the bar outside, and a broad view to the horizen, with the funky town of Joshua Tree off to our left and Twentyninepalms Marine Corp base out of view to the right. The temperature dips and the outdoor fireplace is a treat, but not as delicious as our Mediterranean-style dinner prepared by the talented Shir Bilia

No surprise, what an interesting group. An attorney and his former actress now meditation guide wife, two women who have been best friends for more than 30 years, sharing stories of husbands, children, and now (nearly) empty nests, Dacher and partner mentioned above, renowned experts from UC Berkeley and the United Nations respectively, and of course our hosts. 

A Magical Weekend in Joshua Tree

What does one do in Joshua Tree on a Friday night? Head over to Pappy and Harriets of course, the old former movie set turned into a hoppin’ music venue. “Teenage Dads” from Victoria, Australia, don’t disappoint and were perhaps more enjoyed than the headliners, The Brook and Bluff. I think it was mostly because we were all (old and) running out of energy and needed the pop boost from the Aussies. Besides, although probably not dads, they enjoyed posing for pictures and signing our merch, just like a bunch of teenagers. Or perhaps that was us?


Dany and Eric out the front of Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneer Town just outside Joshua Tree
dany and eric at pappy and harriet's joshua tree getting a photo with teenage dads
Chai tea ceremony in Joshua tree with Anjini Desai

Chai Tea Bliss

We began the following day with coffee and Shakshouka (not to mention hummus, fresh fruit, and baba ganoush), sprinkled with interesting conversation. And then, a chai ceremony for the “chai-curious” presented by Anjini Desai Beautiful. Meditative. Healthy. I had no idea of the healing properties of chai, not to mention the seasonal, and even family-to-family recipe variations. We sipped, contemplated, and breathed with the desert. It was lovely.


One-of-a-Kind Art Studios

After a short break, we piled into the small Sprinter van and drove the short distance to the High Desert Testing Site, a modest artist studio started by Andrea Zittel back in 2000, which has grown into 80 acres of art studios, mini-residences, vegetable gardens, and a chicken coop (High Desert Test Sites). We’re honored to walk through Andrea’s home, which is a bit of an artist’s studio in its own right, with beautiful geographic tiles designed by Andrea and made in Mexico and unusual finishings and furniture that somehow all works, especially out here in the desert.

Dany leaning in doorway in Andrea Zittel home in Joshua Tree - yellow with boxes as storage and plant.

But it is here in the desert that we enjoy a talk and conversation with Professor Dacher about his many years of work on the human experience of “awe”.

Pod where the artists in residence stay at in AZ West in Joshua Tree
Dacher Keltner being interviewed by Jessica Lonergan of Spur about the science of Awe in Joshua Tree

Hope For the Future

We talk of the vagus nerve, about which we are learning so much, which ties together our brainstems, our vocal cords, our heart, lungs, and gut, tethering it all together to respond to art, music, beauty, but also sadness, tears, and even death. We speak of the “awe” in death, both for, from my perspective, the patient, as well as the family. I am well aware of the “beauty” and “gift” of sharing in the journey of death, the passage to the other, and I speak on this, as well as note the art in discussing the same with patients and families with whom I’m having a hard conversation about a, as we say, “bad diagnosis”.  There is hope in our conversation, for as “broken” as our health care system is, there is an increasing awareness of the health benefits of awe, and awe is all around us. 

We just need to pause and let it wash over us…

Under the Desert Sky

We have a few hours in the late afternoon off. Dany and I stop back at the art studio and buy a small piece from Saskia Krafft, an artist in residence. We look forward to these small pieces we collect as we collect adventures and memories together. The light starts to turn golden and, what a treat, our little house has a hot tub out back, and in we plunge, greeted by the local road runner, who stops to look us up and down before disappearing in to the bush.

Saskia Krafft Artist in Residence work in AZ Joshua Tree
Dany & Eric in the hot tub kissing as the sun goes down in Joshua Tree
Dixie Lonergan performing in Joshua Tree

Raise Your Glass

Back to house Terra for another round of cocktails, nibbles, and then dinner. Shir’s dinner is amazing, but the highlights of our weekend in Joshua Tree are the furthered conversation and reflection on the day, topped off by a spontaneous performance by Frank and Jess’s daughter Dixie Lonergan, who wows us with a few sultry covers as well as a couple of beautiful original pieces. Just Dixie and her guitar. The stars are so bright as we make our way back to bed, a full day of beauty, new friends, food, and music. And yes, awe.


Homestead modern house in Joshua Tree light up in the night sky with stars

Timeless Memories

We’re up a little early due to daylight savings, and enjoy more home cooked food and delight in the leftover chai. Phone numbers and email addresses are shared, and then it is time to say farewell. It has been less than two days in our weekend in Joshua Tree, but certainly felt much longer. We drive down from 2,700 feet to the nearly sea-level Palm Springs.
Shakshouka in Joshua Tree

Our ears pop. 

The entrance to The Parker Palm Springs - orange door with concrete 60's brick
Eric wearing an outfit from El Tuggle in Palm Springs behind brigh orange changin curtains and a pearl necklace

Palm Springs Paradise

So do our senses! Palm Springs! I can’t believe I’ve never been here, with its pastel colors, blue skies, palm trees, and 60’s sense of style (and Hollywood fashion). The next thing you know I’m in El Tuggle getting a whole new wardrobe courtesy of my smiling wife and the delightful proprietors, Rodrigo and Robert. I’m over 60 and have never rocked a set of pearls like Harry Styles before, until now. 


It’s never too late to step up your game. 

Glitz & Glamour

And in keeping with Hollywood panache, we check in to the Parker Hotel for one night, although blessed with early check-in and late check-out (thank you, American Express). Did you know that today’s Parker Hotel in Palm Springs was the first Holiday Inn in California? It was then purchased by Gene Autrey, and later Merv Griffen, the grounds are lovely, replete with hammocks, fire pits, and an enormous, phallic, half-peeled bronze banana, and the design and furnishings inside are classic old Hollywood. 


Dany standing in the entry to Gene Autrey's house in The Parker Palm Springs that has green foliage all around

A lovely place to be highly recommended.

Dany sitting in the very 1960's sitting room in The Parker Palm Springs
A Perfect Weekend in Joshua Tree & The Science of Awe

Journeying Home

Alas, mid-day comes, and it is time to drive the palm-lined streets to the small Palm Springs airport. It was a busy tennis weekend at Indian Wells (BNP Paribas, anyone?), and our flight got somewhat delayed. No matter, I get to reflect on our weekend in Joshua Tree and put “pen to paper” here. Our time spent together was, one might even say,



Thank you for joining our AWE-some weekend in Joshua Tree National Park! We hope the memories we’ve shared together will continue to inspire wonder in your heart. Whether you’ve wandered amidst the stunning desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park or dream of embarking on your own awe-inspiring journey, we’d love to hear from you. Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok to share your stories and join in the conversation. 

Let’s continue to spread the magic of our adventures together! Stay tuned for more adventures ahead!