Take a weekend trip to the desert, to the gay inns, where clothing is optional

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Two men, seen from the chest up with their lower bodies behind a sheet, embrace.

This story is part of Image issue 8, “Deserted,” a supercharged experience of becoming and spiritual renewal. Enjoy the trip! (Wink, wink.) See the full package here.

The skin wants the sun. The skin wants warmth and touch, and then water and air, shade and cool. The skin pulls you to the desert, to the gay inns, where swimsuits are optional.

One person's hand rests on another's lower back.
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Some of these hotels are midcentury time warps, a dozen or so rooms encircling a kidney-shaped pool; some are sedate, with original furnishings, original decors and dust; some are updated and pricy, the millennial fantasy of midcentury but with Bluetooth amenities; some pump gay-circuit electronica through speakers hidden in cactus gardens, that peculiarly ubiquitous and relentlessly driving sex-club music, and those places tend to be more … playful.

At this point, you’ve checked out them all; your favorite is a smaller place, very quiet, very clean and very naked. Two enormous palm trees stand sentinel on either end of the pool, bare and brown. They are so tall, so bent; it seems the faintest breeze will bring them crashing down upon you but there never is a breeze; you float on a raft of clear-blue plastic, bare and brown yourself, and imagine what that might feel like, that crash. Later, poolside, an older man leans into the middle space between your lounge chairs. That guy, he says, using his chin to point, is a porn star. And so he is. You smile, return to your book; you’re reading Jane Rule’s 1964 lesbian cult hit, “Desert of the Heart,” a favorite. At the naked place, you like to bring classics of queer desert literature, Arturo Islas’ “The Rain God” or a book of poems by Natalie Diaz: you will tie and tighten the loop / of light around your waist. You like to imagine the men who founded these gay inns, the want of safety and seclusion. The wants of the skin. The mountains are dove gray and blue-brown and scrubbed, and your own skin forgives you, for all that wasted time, clothed and hidden.

One man looks at another, who is looking at his cellphone
A portable seat on grass next to a blue and white striped towel.
A mustached man stands looking into the distance at another man whose reflection is seen in a glass window.
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A black ashtray rests on a white table with a perforated top.
Seen from above, two men face each other in a swimming pool.
Two men, seen from the waist down, hold hands and stand close together.
A lavender hotel room door with a Do Not Disturb sign on the handle.

Photographed at CCBC Resort Hotel in Cathedral City, Calif.

Justin Torres is the author of the bestselling novel “We the Animals.”

JJ Geiger is a queer photographer based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen in Vogue, the Wall Street Journal, and Paper, as well as with brands like Calvin Klein and Grindr.