Reporting from Joshua Tree, Calif.
I had my doubts as I turned off the isolated highway onto the sandy open desert.
"Drive three miles, then make a left?" I wondered out loud while reading the directions, as my car bounced over mounds of sand, mimicking one of those souped-up cars in a rap video.
Something told me my Hyundai compact wasn't built for this.
After a 10-minute drive, a telephone pole appeared with a ragged poster attached to it. A hand-drawn arrow pointed me toward a cluster of tiny trailers surrounding a kidney-shaped pool. As I pulled up, a group of twentysomethings was playing Frisbee and rocking out to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" blasting from a stereo on their trailer's porch.
This trailer park-themed motel in Joshua Tree offers accommodations nearly as outlandish as Lady Gaga's attire. Choose from seven trailers, including the sci-fi-inspired Airstream, complete with an alien communication device and fog machine, or the stretched-out camper with a video-editing station so you can work on that indie film project you've been putting off.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
THE BEST WAY TO JOSHUA TREE, CALIF.
From Los Angeles, take Interstate 10 east to California 62 north.
WHERE TO STAY
HicksviIle Trailer Palace, Joshua Tree, Calif.; (310) 584-1086, http://www.hicksville.com
. Seven themed trailers are available for $75 to $225 a night. All are air-conditioned except the Pony, which is housed in an open-air stall. All trailers share shower and bathroom facilities, except the New World, which has its own.
TO LEARN MORE
Joshua Tree National Park, http://www.nps.gov/jotr
The Integratron, http://www.integratron.com
Looking to relive those childhood camping memories? Bring a bag of marshmallows to roast over the campfire, or test your aim at the BB gun and archery range. After one night, you'll realize the only rules are to unwind and have fun. That and perhaps to not accidently shoot anyone.
Upon arriving, I was given a tour and a rundown by Derwood Andrews, the motel's part-time property manager and former guitar player for the seminal punk-rock band Generation X.
Everything about the place seemed like a rocker's paradise with its party-like vibe and slightly inebriated patrons. The grounds even include a music-recording studio where Sean Yseult of White Zombie fame recently recorded with her new group, Star & Dagger.
Hicksville, built by Los Angeles film writer and director Morgan Higby Night, opened in April as a retreat for artists to create and collaborate.
"I wanted to build something special, a place that would draw people from all kinds of backgrounds to come and relax and enjoy the magic in and around Joshua Tree," Night explained.
Night, now 40, moved, on his own, into a trailer park in central Oregon at age 17 and has had an affinity for trailers ever since. He was inspired by another themed-room motel, the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.
I followed Andrews through the large wooden gate to the main campground. Four trailers surrounded a green patch of Astroturf with a saltwater pool in the middle. Several bikini-clad women sipped mixed cocktails as they lazily floated on rafts just a few feet from the trailers.
"It's important to remember one rule," Andrews said, with a semi-serious look on his face.
There go my plans for skinny-dipping, I said, joking.
"Be sure to put on the cover at night," he continued. "You never know what kind of critters you'll need to fish out the next morning."
I'm guessing he was just kidding. Regardless, I don't do well with critters, so I decided to skip the pool. Andrews threw me a set of keys attached to a UFO keychain.
"These are for the Integratrailor — where you'll be staying tonight," he said while walking toward a silver Airstream trailer with an alien lawn ornament and miniature crashed spaceship out front.
The trailer was designed in homage to the mystical Integratron, an Epcot-like domed structure built in the 1950s about 15 miles away in Landers. It was intended to serve as a combination rejuvenation device and time machine, and its inventor claims that aliens from Venus taught him the secret for rejuvenating living cell tissues. Goodbye, Botox.
The trailer's muted gray interior was decorated with star-speckled curtains and a matching lunar duvet on the double bed. I immediately noticed a strange box on the counter with numerous dials and a spinning silver disk the size of a dinner plate.
"That's the alien communication device in case you feel like making some contact tonight," Derwood said with a smile as he watched me spin the knobs.
So does it actually work? Let's just say it takes a lot of wishful thinking. Or a few margaritas.
Hicksville's facilities are basic, but that is part of the fun. All the trailers share bathroom and shower facilities in the barn, except for a deluxe stretch trailer that has its own. I walked across the Astroturf and picked up a towel inside the barn. Reuse of towels is encouraged; hooks, labeled with the trailer name, are provided for drying.
"Someone's already taking a shower inside," yelled a shirtless guy grilling hotdogs who noticed me wandering around in my towel. "You'll need to shower outside if you're in a hurry."
A few yards away, I noticed a three-sided, rusted metal stall with a showerhead sticking out of it. I stepped inside and felt slightly self-conscious as I pulled off my towel and could see houses in the distance. I turned on the water and immediately let out a high-pitched yelp. A group of nearby guests looked my way and began laughing after they realized it was a grown man and not a dog that got stepped on. The solar-heated water never got very hot, but it felt good in the 100-degree-plus weather.
At night, the party vibe settled down and I amused myself for at least 20 minutes with a remote control that operated a set of multicolored lights surrounding the trailer. It was strangely addicting.
Before calling it a night, I headed over to the barn and perused the old-fashioned Pepsi machine, which dispensed bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a variety of soft drinks. I put in $2, pulled out a bottle of Orange Crush and sat by the fire pit with a few other guests who managed to stay awake after a day in the sun.
We spoke to one another quietly –– trying not to wake anyone –– and gazed toward the wide-open, cosmic sky.
"I can't remember the last time I've seen the Milky Way. We don't get to see this in L.A.," said Amy, a young television producer who rarely leaves the city.
Mark, who drove from Colorado with his wife in a vintage 1960s Jaguar rental, said he was here to celebrate his 40th birthday.
"So many guys drop a ton of cash and go through this whole midlife crisis thing," he said. "I wanted to do something unique and not overly commercial."
The moment reminded me of camping trips I took as a kid — a time before iPods and portable DVD players replaced discussion.
Suddenly a loud splash interrupted the serene moment. "I knew it was only time before someone ended up naked in the pool," Amy shouted, as she ran to catch a glimpse.
In that moment, I had only one thought: Whoever just jumped in that pool had better watch out for critters.