There are two varieties of Joshua tree. One, Yucca brevifolia var. brevifolia, occupies the western part of the species’ range, and is the one you see near Los Angeles and Death Valley. The other, Yucca brevifolia var. jaegeriana, which has shorter leaves and a branchier general appearance, is the one that grows in Arizona and Utah, and near Las Vegas and in the eastern parts of the California Mojave.
The two varieties meet in only one place in the world, in a small valley in central Nevada about three hours’ drive east of Tonopah on a largely deserted road. The Tikaboo Valley is dry, even on a cool morning in a spring after record rainfall. The casual traveler will see an old ranch road, a white shape at its end that may be one small building or a few large ones — the scale is hard to tell at that range. She will see Joshua trees, both along the paved road and fringing the base of the Groom Range across the valley. And at about the valley’s midpoint, where Nevada State Route 375 heads up into the startlingly beautiful Pahranagat Mountains and toward the well-watered valley on the other side, she will see a dirt road heading west across the valley and up the Groom Range, disapppearing from sight around a bend about ten miles distant.
No sign marks this nameless, unnumbered road. In that respect, it is like most other such roads of use in Nevada, stray trails across the desert carved by landowners or miners or pronghorn. But this road is a freeway by comparison. It is level, and scrupulously maintained, and free of washboard or rut. A man in a small pickup could drive it at about seventy-five miles per hour with hardly a dashboard rattle.
I know that from personal experience: I turned onto the road last week, driving toward the Groom Range and a federal facility that does not, officially, exist: the fabled Area 51. I wasn’t particularly interested in the X-files stuff on the other side of the Grooms. I wanted a better look at the forest of Yucca brevifolia var brevifolia on the east side of the valley. And I got a better look, and was satisfied, and made a sweeping three-point turn to head away from the Security Guards with their authorization of deadly force, and toward Alamo and an afternoon cup of coffee.
And swerved, suddenly, to avoid what I immediately recognized as a non-human intelligent being crossing the road.
Such joy! How could I have doubted the stories about this place? I parked and walked back to say hello to him. He was shy. I forced myself not to bother him too much, but I did presume upon his privacy to take a few photographs.</a How else to prove I'd actually met him? Otherwise, no one would believe me.
Though he was placid, he was obviously a little put out at my presence, and in the interest of amity with other sentient beings I left him after a few minutes, looking back at him in the rearview as I headed for that coffee.